The Real Privacy Nightmare

The Real Privacy Nightmare Is The Information We Voluntarily Hand Over to Shady Apps

In the very, very early days of proto-Facebook, back when the current social media leader was still trying to get traction among Harvard students, Mark Zuckerberg was IMing with a friend when he offered “info about anyone at Harvard,” including “4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS.” When the friend asked how this was possible, Zuckerberg replied “People just submitted it. They ‘trust me.’ Dumb fucks.”

One could argue that Zuckerberg was just making a dark joke, and/or that Facebook has long since beefed up its security and privacy policies as it grew into the dominant social network with 1.5 billion users. However, the most telling bit from that exchange is that so many people would be willing to give up personal, very exploitable information, just for the use of a new service that facilitated social interaction.

The same thing is happening today, as we use apps that request all kinds of access to you and your information for their use. The most recent evidence of this phenomenon is an online quiz from VonVon called “What Are Your Most Used Words on Facebook.” (SMT has previously covered the viral popularity of the quiz in an article by Sarah Snow.)

According to Paul Bischoff of Comparitech, over 16 million people have taken this quiz, and by doing so have “given up almost every private detail about themselves to a company they likely know nothing about just to play a quiz.”

Bischoff’s post, the bluntly titled “That ‘most used words’ Facebook quiz is a privacy nightmare” sums up the problems with the quiz, listing the information VonVon asks for in order to take the quiz:

  • Name, profile picture, age, sex, birthday, and other public info
  • Entire friend list
  • Everything you’ve ever posted on your timeline
  • All of your photos and photos you’re tagged in
  • Education history
  • Hometown and current city
  • Everything you’ve ever liked
  • IP address
  • Info about the device you’re using including browser and language

Bischoff then mercilessly digs through VonVon’s privacy policy to hack apart the loopholes and tricks in the legalese that allow the company to do basically whatever it wants with your info: VonVon can continue to use your data even after you’ve closed and deleted your account. Your data can be held anywhere on earth, “including countries without strong privacy laws.” And much more.

VonVon itself, as noted in our previous article on the quiz, states the following about the data it gathers:

“We use the information and data We collect in connection with operation, maintenance and enhancement of our services and features, and for other administrative purposes or internal operations, such as communicating with our users, data analysis, testing and research,” according to the VonVon privacy policy. They claim not to share data with third parties except to let advertisers know how well their ads are doing and their reach.

As above, the third-party claim is excepted if you give them permission, the problem being that, as Bischoff notes, by playing the quiz you give them permission. So basically any company that VonVon shares its info with also has the same level of access to your account, and if you try to change any of the privacy settings, you can’t take the quiz.

VonVon is far from the only company that has these kind of practices, but, as I stated, what alarms me is the utter lack of caution that some people have with their personal information.

learning new things

Learning New Things About You From Your Submissions

So, maybe the most pertinent issue with privacy and social media isn’t governments spying on us or hackers stealing our information, it’s what we give up, just by being asked. In which case, the dumb fucks at fault here would be us.

Reprinted from Social Media Today