We already know that if you use an online social network, you give up a serious slice of your privacy thanks to the omnivorous way companies like Google and Facebook gather your personal data. But new academic research offers a glimpse of what these companies may be learning about people who don’t use their massive web services. And it’s a bit scary.
Because they couldn’t get their hands on data from the likes of Facebook or LinkedIn, the researchers studied publicly available data archived from an older social network, Friendster. They found that if Friendster had used certain state-of-the-art prediction algorithms, it could have divined sensitive information about non-members, including their sexual orientation. “At the time, it was possible for Friendster to predict the sexual orientation of people who did not have an account on Friendster,” says David Garcia, a postdoctoral researcher with Switzerland’s ETH Zurich university, who co-authored the study.
Garcia’s findings showed that for people in minority classes—homosexual men or women, for example—his profiling techniques were 60 percent accurate. That’s a pretty high accuracy, he says, “since a random, uniformed classification would have a precision of less than 5 percent.”
The paper only examines sexual orientation, but Garcia thinks this type of analysis could model things such as age, relationship status, occupation, even political affiliation. “Basically, anything that is already shared by the users inside the social network could be predicted,” he says.
It’s yet another reason to be wary of Facebook in particular, as the social network’s growing size, massive user database, and increasing emphasis on advertising revenue continues to worry users. Last week, a two-month-old Facebook alternative called Ello was generating 50,000 new member requests per hour—not only because it was ad-free but because it provided a safe haven for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community unhappy that Facebook forced them to use their real names. But even if they flee Facebook, it seems, the social network may still have ways to betray their privacy.
The problem Garcia identifies lies in something called “shadow profiles,” and as a consequence, we all could be intimately profiled by the Facebooks and Googles and LinkedIns of the world—whether we agree to it or not.
Garcia says this kind of statistical analysis—essentially using machine learning to study the known tastes and relationships of one person’s contacts, and making a guess about who they are likely to be—could be used to build disturbingly detailed profiles of people who do not even use the social network. Although the Friendster data dates to the last decade, Garcia believes that Facebook could make the same type of predictions with its data—and probably do this better because it has so many more users than Friendster ever did.
We learned about shadow profiles last year when security researchers at a company called Packetstorm discovered Facebook was maintaining its own files on users’ contacts. For example, if Facebook found two users were connected to a non-member—say, firstname.lastname@example.org—it would pool other information—different phone numbers, for example—into one master dossier.
A Facebook spokesman says the company “doesn’t have shadow accounts or profiles – hidden or otherwise – for people who haven’t signed up for our service,” and a 2011 audit by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner confirmed this. But the company does store information on non-users when Facebook members import their contact lists.
‘A Major Problem’
That doesn’t sit well with everyone. “The fact that I have no control over additional email addresses and phone numbers added to their data store on me is frightening,” Packetstorm wrote in a blog post last year. The man who wrote this post, Packetstorm Partner Todd Jarvis, says that he believes that Facebook still collects this data, despite his company’s recommendation that they delete it. “As long as it exists, it is a liability in my opinion,” he says.
He thinks that because it’s such a tricky technical and ethical issue, that the only way to really protect the data of people outside of the network is through legislation. “It is not enough to get a statement from Facebook saying we promise not to build those profiles,” he says.
daily alternative | alternative news – Not on a Social Network? You’ve Still Got a Privacy Problem
Google Upgrades Digital Wallet to Pay by Facial Recognition
As we march steadily toward a cashless society, Google is naturally at the forefront of seeing it come to fruition as quickly as possible.
Despite the fact that several years ago Google had a major security scare with its first incarnation of the digital wallet smartphone app, which required a temporary shutdown, they are announcing a new system being tested which does not even require the smartphone at all.
A growing number of people apparently find that having to remove their smartphone is just such a hassle that they are prepared to embrace payment via biometrics – in this case, facial recognition.
As a perfect indicator of the target market, please read this sad quote:
“Imagine if you could rush through a drive-thru without reaching for your wallet, or pick up a hot dog at the ballpark without fumbling to pass coins or your credit card to the cashier,” Bhat said. (Source)
In one sentence, that quote might represent literally everything that is wrong with modern society.
The new system is being cleverly called Hands Free; and, as the second indicator of its potential mass appeal, it will be rolled out first at McDonald’s and Papa John’s fast food restaurants.
A second more serious component to this ties in with the recent rollout of citywide WiFi systems that keep people connected at all times. Layered on top of that is the arrival of billboards with hidden cameras built in that can film you, then track you through your mobile phone. This reality makes the following information more chilling than convenient:
The digital wallet uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections alone [sic] with location sensing capabilities in smartphones to detect when someone is near a store enabled with Hands Free payment technology.
“When you’re ready to pay, you can simply tell the cashier, ‘I’ll pay with Google,’” Bhat said.
“The cashier will ask for your initials and use the picture you added to your Hands Free profile to confirm your identity.”
At some locations, Google is experimented [sic] with using cameras in stores to recognize people with Hands Free digital wallets so they could pay without even pausing. (emphasis added)
The number of people already prepared to accept this system numbers in the millions, according to Google.
Although this announcement would appear to border on satire, please view the videos below to get an idea about a world where cash is seen as a major annoyance, and laziness is embraced as a virtue.
daily alternative | alternative news – Google Upgrades Digital Wallet to Pay by Facial Recognition
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|Quotes delayed up to 2 minutes.|