Facebook, Gmail, iPhone. What do They Know About You?

If online privacy is something you care about for you or your kids or the world, for that matter, I have some information to share with you.

By now, most people know that just about everything they do online is not private.

You’ve probably heard that our internet searches, our site visits, our posts and comments can all be tracked, recorded and archived.

Incredible. Right?

But I’m not sure we really grasp the mind-boggling fact that every word we type on an online server–even words we erase or delete can also be saved and archived.  Recorded and kept, for a very long time.

If you’re curious, you can see what it looks like when you delete and change an email, but the server saves every single keystroke  you make along the way, here 

Now, Take it One Step Further

Think about this save-all-deleted-things concept with other online server situations.  Take platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, just to name a few. When we use their online servers we’re playing on their field. So it follows that the same practice of storing an unpublished post, message, live video-anything “created” on an online server, but deleted prior to the click could actually be happening-right?

Facebook knows what you’re thinking twice about

In 2012 Facebook employee Adam Kramer and Carnegie Mellon student Sauvik Das teamed up to read the unpublished Facebook comments and posts of 3.9 million Facebook users. They weren’t just snooping around for fun mind you, they were doing for research to present at the International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM). They analyzed posts and comments for a fascinating look at Self Censorship. They wanted to figure out why and who began to write a post but then decided not to post.

Turns out that men, more often then women, opted to walk away from a prospective comment after thinking about it. And younger users decided not to hit post way more than older people. Das calls this behavior “think twice.”

All really very interesting, but you may be thinking–Wait, Facebook knows what I type but don’t post? I reached out to Sauvik Das and he pointed out that the paper clearly states that the researchers did not read posts– he said this research project gets misinterpreted a lot. So from the research paper:

To measure censorship, we instrumented two user inter-face elements of the Facebook website, : the “composer” the HTML form element through which users can post stand alone content such as status updates. The element was tracked only if at least five characters were entered into the composer or comment box. Content was then marked as “censored” if it was not shared within the subsequent ten minutes; using this threshold allowed us to record only the presence or absence of text entered, not the keystrokes or content.

If content entered were to go unposted for ten minutes and then was posted, we argue that it was indeed censored (albeit temporarily)

These analyses were conducted in an anonymous manner, so researchers were not privy to any specific user’s activity

Furthermore, all instrumentation was done on the client side. In other words, the content of self censored posts and comments was not sent back to Facebook’s servers: Only a binary value of that content was entered at all.

So the research team didn’t actually see what was being typed–but did anyone else?

Well, I think it’s possible.  What you type onto the sever is saved with Gmail’s Google Vault-for shizzle- so why not FB?

What you type on Facebook stays on Facebook’s Servers, so says Jennifer Golbeck in article for Slate. “The code in your browser that powers Facebook still knows what you typed–even if you decide not to publish it.”

And here’s the thing, it’s not like Facebook is trying to deceive anyone. It’s just that most of us don’t make it a point to actually read the all-too-long and way too lawyer-esque Privacy Policies.

Facebook’s Privacy Policy says this: “We collect the content and other information you provide when you use our Services, including when you sign up for an account, create or share, and message or communicate with others. This can include information in or about the content you provide, such as the location of a photo or the date a file was created. We also collect information about how you use our Services, such as the types of content you view or engage with or the frequency and duration of your activities.”

Did you catch “create or share”? How about “message or communicate” could those terms include the verbal words picked up by your microphone when your Facebook or Instagram accounts are enabled?

Hmmm? Or perhaps Wow is more appropriate.

That may explain how or why we think Facebook seems to know everything we’re doing . . . ?

But for now the question is, “What exactly is happening to the posts that you write or “create” but delete and don’t “share”. Honestly, I don’t know how long it’s saved or exactly how it’s archived, but what I do know is that I want everyone to be aware that what they type and delete, isn’t actually deleted. Fortunately, what you post and what you write before you post is under your control.

Is it time to say “No Paparazzi Please”?

Your identity, that gorgeous, beautiful face that belongs only to you– is also being archived on servers. And it’s not just your face, it’s your face and everywhere that face goes and all the faces it takes a photo with and all those comments made about that photo of faces in places that you posted on the net.   It all has the potential to be saved.

I wrote about how Facebook’s tagging feature may be selling you out.  And of course, we have Apple’s new iPhone X uses facial recognition to think about.  Apple’s facial recognition True Depth camera technology captures more data points than a fingerprint scan.That’s a lot of very personal data that could become VERY public.

You can read how it works and who else might be using that camera and for what here.

We make decisions everyday about trading convenience for privacy. But many people don’t know what they are potentially exposing about themselves.

The camera’s on You Baby

You’re being scanned by US Immigration, you’re taped from above in stores and casinos, you’re walking down the street and there’s cameras on the light posts and they’re all pointing at unsuspecting you.

They capture everything. A great idea for catching criminals but not so great for the rest of us.

I remember watching a particular police-state episode of The Twilight Zone in the 80’s. It grabbed my heart, it was so sad.

It foretold of a time when drones were everywhere and if you said or did anything that wasn’t “correct”, you’d get this sort of technological Scarlet R that meant you’d be ignored or deemed invisible. Any time The Invisible Man as this segment was titled, talked to anyone, these police drones would instantly appear and warn others not to talk to him.

Can you imagine? And what happens when the “futuristic” government starts using this type of surveillance for regulatory purposes? Watch and see–I’ve got a link to the episode below.

What Does All this Hold for the Future of Our Children?

Hard to Know.  We’re in uncharted territory when it comes to kids growing up and entering adulthood with an entire dossier of their life digitally collected and potentially exposed. Between Gmail recording every typed (or erased) word, Facebook saving all posts and doing who knows what with posts that are written, but not published. Social platforms enabling  facial recognition tracking and archiving plus all the reams of information that’s saved online –think about it:  report cards, Little League stats, family photos and events shared on parents social pages, etc. all of it instantly identifiable to a child’s name.

Missteps, rites of passage, potentially damaging words said to a child or about them or by them in an online server environment, all have the potential to be recorded, saved and archived and then reviewed.

Of course there are laws designed to protect kids and adults from dissemination of this information.  But, what if those laws change?  What if those laws are broken?

For now, we just need to be aware and mindfully exercise the privacy options we can control.

Here are some tips:

Instead of typing your drafts of posts on servers, try writing your thoughts on a piece of paper or on a word document so that at least “draft” data cannot be accessed.

Keep all of your social accounts on PRIVATE and make sure tagging features are disabled.

Make sure your kids aren’t posting publicly on social media. Children’s accounts should be private and password protected. Print or personally share photos instead of posting them online.

  1. Keep it simple – facial recognition and fingerprints might be cool shortcuts, but they aren’t really necessary! It’ll only take you a couple more seconds every day to type your password instead of programming your personal information into your device to unlock it.

For more tips, check out How to Keep a Webcam and Microphone from Spying and iPhone Privacy Tips.




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