Second Life, as Idiotic as it Sounds, Gave Me an Illusion of Privacy

La Garrigue (moderate)

I’m going to rant today. You can ignore my anger and frustration by just looking at the photos of a group of sims I happened upon. They’re much less moody and emo than the images imply, but I was not in a happy state of mind.

The revelation that Governments are insisting on access to personal data collected by various telcos and social networking sites has resulted in justifiable outrage. It was, however, in my mind inevitable. Think about it, if you were a data analyst and knew that there was a ginormous source of raw material, collected by somebody else, wouldn’t you salivate over the prospect of using it? Of course you would. Having the authority to simply demand a copy of it would make the prospect irresistible.

I won’t say that I felt smug, just that my fears were minimized because of the very restricted amount of information I give anybody. Honour is public and known in many areas – my real life is not. At least that’s what I thought.

Something happened this week that revealed that the situation is even worse than we believed. I decided to stop muttering under my breath and vent out loud.

AlaFolie (moderate)

I’ve expressed on previous occasions my concern about the passive assignment of rights that results from Terms of Service on various sites. For example, if somebody pins one of my photos on Pinterest my work is then subject to their TofS whether I signed on to it or not. This bothered me – but not as much as it should have.

You might have seen stories this week about a bug that was detected on Facebook. For a full year, if you did something called Download Your Information, you received data on your contacts that was often more than you knew about them↑. The reason you might suddenly have their telephone number, or 3 other email addresses, was that Facebook creates a Shadow Profile of everybody and links information they receive about that individual from each person who has them as a contact.

So, if they’re on 3 contact lists, the data is cross-referenced and aggregated and stored in this Shadow Profile. “According to the admissions in its blog, posted late Friday afternoon, Facebook appears to be obtaining users’ offsite email address and phone numbers and attempting to match them to other accounts.” It gets worse.

Serallon (moderate)

If you’ve uploaded your contacts to Facebook (and sign up to the site) they keep them. Even if a contact is NOT a Facebook member. That’s right – I’m not on $%(& Facebook, but many people I know are. That means I have a Shadow Profile where every bit of data about me, known to acquaintances, friends and family, is cross-referenced and stored.

The justification for this is multi-leveled. First of all, when you signed on to the Facebook TofS you agreed to having your contacts’ information stored. I didn’t agree to have my personal information collected, or cross-referenced, or archived in perpetuity by this entity, but it doesn’t matter. You see, according to them my data belongs to you since it’s part of your contact list.

“(…) Our first question asked that, in the name of common decency and privacy, would Facebook ever commit to automatically discarding information of individuals that do not have a known Facebook account? Possibly age it out X days if they don’t respond to an invite due to a friend uploading their information without their knowledge?

Their response was essentially that they think of contacts imported by a user as the user’s data and they are allowed to do with it what they want..”

CrazyBody (moderate)

That’s right, you’d think it would be reasonable for Facebook to delete data on those who don’t belong to the site. Ha!

“We were basically met with the same reasoning as above and in their wording they actually went as far as claiming that it would be a freedom of speech violation”.

If you think about it for a moment, and remember playing the game of Six Degrees of Separation, the number of Facebook users means that there are very few people in the world who won’t have a Shadow Profile. That data will look like a candy store to more than just Government data analysts.

In Second Life, and in many virtual environments such as social networks, we feel like we’re maintaining our privacy through avatars. We’re wrong. Linking Honour to her real world identity will have been done because people have my different email addresses and names. Now Facebook does as well. Do No Harm has a very different meaning to some people than it does to the rest of us.

La Pinede (moderate)
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10 Comments

  1. Oh my goodness… thanks for sharing this Honour. I have always kept my RL self wayyyy away from the net. But knowing that my family all have Facebook pages; I guess I may as well just post it on all on Flickr. >__<

    Reply
  2. It seems fitting that I read this today, as it is, in general, A.Not.Very.Good.Day.Here. So insert expletive of choice. If I was just a little bit more savvy, with all these inter-connected data files floating around, I’d be able to more easily hunt down (um, I mean kindly locate) a few asshat avatar’s RL IDs to say “howdy” to. Meh, maybe next week.

    Reply
  3. Inara Pey

     /  June 28, 2013

    Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to mark the passing of a good friend and comforter to us all. Privacy.

    Throughout a long life, Privacy sought to bring us peace in times of need, succour in times of stress, and provided shelter and comfort when many around us demanded we give more of ourselves in order to sate their needs.

    Now Privacy has passed, and we can only hope that those who brought about its demise may yet come to rue the day they so willfully sought to bring it low. So to the Zuckerbergs and Schmitts of this world, I say this and only this, “May the day not be long in coming when your own selfish determination to reap the harvest of other’s privacy comes back to royally rip you a new posterior opening.”

    Do I hear an “Amen”?

    Reply
  4. I third that amen!

    Having not had a Facebook account, I wasn’t particularly worried what they did with their internal privacy–or profound lack thereof–statute. However, not only do I have friends who are on Facebook, I have *family* on Facebook.

    But it goes further than that. In the US there’s really no expectation of privacy anymore. We have abrogated so many of our personal rights just this decade alone, that I am sure I am *already* profiled in some dusty online file, my affiliations arranged, my credit score attached, my names and my common aliases marked out in triplicate. Should I, through some unfortunate quirk of fate, befriend someone considered seditious or a suspected terrorist, police and federal officials can, without warrant, seize my person, search (without benefit of warrant) my dwellings, interrogate my associates, and lock me up somewhere with no access to an attorney or charges filed.

    I entirely understand why this upsets you–why it would upset any thinking being who hadn’t considered how these links could be drawn with the right (or wrong) set of eyes to arrange the data neatly. But at least in the US, the Homeland Security act vaguely defined so many precepts, that it’s been used to violate nearly every supposed right citizens had. And they’re not coming back any time soon. Be upset–it’s upsetting–but be upset about *all* of it, not just the correlation of your data online.

    Reply
    • I explained to somebody today that I can’t blame a Government for wanting a copy of all that data – they’d be stupid not to want it. The fact that a Corporate entity is gathering and storing it is appalling. It doesn’t even matter to me who is looking at it – the idea that somebody seeking profit would have the gall to assemble it offends me deeply.
      I think Facebook wants to have a database of every person on earth (which is not that farfetched): names, email and street addresses, phone numbers, work history, likes/dislikes. They can monetize it in so many different ways and hubris wouldn’t allow them to consider NOT doing it.
      The degeneration of rights in your country this century is appalling and, viewing it from outside your borders, it’s been obvious. I don’t envy you in the least.

      Reply
  1. Privacy!?!

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