• The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), along with 48 state Attorney Generals, filed twin antitrust lawsuits against Facebook, alleging its purchases of Instagram and WhatsApp were made to stifle competition, and that it engaged in unlawful, anticompetitive tactics to buy or kill off its rivals and solidify its dominance in social networking.
  • “Over the last decade, the social networking giant illegally acquired competitors in a predatory manner and cut services to smaller threats — depriving users from the benefits of competition and reducing privacy protections and services along the way — all in an effort to boost its bottom line through increased advertising revenue,” according to the lawsuit. …

As Facebook finds itself ensnared in a fresh controversy for misusing Apple’s internal app distribution mechanism to get Facebook users to side-load a data-harvesting Research VPN app that monitored all data passing through their phones in exchange for US$ 20 per month, search giant Google has been caught doing the same.

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Did you actually read the terms?

The private iOS app, called Screenwise Meter and part of the larger Google Opinions Rewards program, is open to anyone above 18 years old and lets users earn gift cards for side-loading the app that allows Google to monitor and analyse their internet traffic and data. …

The year may be 2019, but Facebook’s troubles with privacy are far from over. In a fresh expose by TechCrunch’s Josh Constine, it has emerged that the social networking giant is running a secret research program (dubbed Project Atlas, not to be confused with the company’s ad tool of the same name that it shuttered in 2016) for the past three years with an aim to collect user data from paid volunteers (aged between 13 to 35) by extensively monitoring their phone and web activity and sending it back to Facebook.

“Like many companies, we invite people to participate in research that helps us identify things we can be doing better,” said Facebook, responding to the latest revelations. “Since this research is aimed at helping Facebook understand how people use their mobile devices, we’ve provided extensive information about the type of data we collect and how they can participate. We don’t share this information with others and people can stop participating at any time,” it added. …

As the case for breaking up Facebook strengthens in the wake of one privacy calamity after other, the social networking giant, which also happens to own three of the world’s largest communication platforms WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger, has said it’s working to “integrate the social network’s messaging services,” according to The New York Times. “The services will continue to operate as stand-alone apps, but their underlying technical infrastructure will be unified, said four people involved in the effort. That will bring together three of the world’s largest messaging networks, which between them have more than 2.6 …

Popular on-demand video streaming service Netflix’s announcement that it’s raising prices for U.S. subscribers should come as no surprise. As the company continues to double down on original content and fend off competition from the likes of Hulu, Amazon, YouTube and Disney+, the rate hikes, the biggest since launching its streaming service 12 years ago, are a sign that getting “locked in” to a service, regardless of the price tag, can be detrimental to the consumers in the long run.

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Ecosystem lock-in has long been the classic strategy adopted by companies to retain users within their platforms. Whether be it by offering their services for free, or by undercutting rivals by offering them at a lower price, tech companies in particular have laid a groundwork where choosing a platform is tantamount to pledging allegiance to a single’s company’s products. …

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Image: Pixabay

At this point, nothing about Facebook’s vast data collection engine should surprise anyone. Yet for all the effort it expends defending its questionable data practices, the social network’s hunger for users’ personal information has led to it adopting any means necessary for harvesting as much data as possible, acquiring any company that might remotely threaten its numero uno status, crushing its competition and expanding its reach on a colossal scale, with seemingly nothing to stop it on its tracks.

Until now. And 2018 might as well be Facebook’s year of reckoning, its annus horribilis.

The social network giant, which has been rocked by a series of privacy scandals, set off by disclosures earlier this March that a political consultancy firm, Cambridge Analytica, improperly accessed user data in an attempt to influence 2016 U.S. elections, proved itself to be incapable of securing the personal information users entrusted in its hands, in addition to facing mounting criticism for its slow, reactive approach to handling propaganda and mis-(dis)information on the platform. …

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Data, Data, Everywhere (Image: Medium)

Data is the new oil. If you’re not paying for it; you’re the product. These are some of the oft-repeated lines in today’s digital economy.

Although they are generalisations, at times even lazy and inaccurate, the proliferation of apps coupled with the exponential increase in mobile traffic has resulted in user data being accumulated by companies at a scale that was previously imaginable.

Trapyz, a Bengaluru-based startup that specialises in machine learning driven consumer insights for brands and advertisers, in fact, goes by a very catchy tagline: “If data is the new oil, then location intelligence is rocket fuel.”

Already most of what we do, both online and offline, are being increasingly used as fodder for targeted advertising by various companies that offer their service for “free” in exchange for our attention and us voluntarily sharing our day-to-day minutiae. …

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Google Allo (Image: StickPNG)

Google hasn’t had much luck with messaging. What started off as Gchat aka Google Talk in 2005 became Google+ Messenger and then Hangouts, only to be relegated as a business chat platform in the form of two separate apps Chat and Meet. Let’s not forget that Google also operated a social network called Orkut that came with its own messaging features baked in, before it was ultimately shut down ten years later in 2014.

In the midst of all this, Google introduced two more chat apps Allo and Duo, one for instant messaging and other for video calls, in 2016, but paused development on the former early this year to focus more heavily on an RCS-based solution called Chat. …

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Google Doodle for Chinese year of the Dragon (Image: Google Doodles)

Google has been long synonymous with the unofficial motto “Don’t Be Evil,” a clause that encapsulated everything about its core values, one that it expects every employee and Board member to “follow both in spirit and letter”. However around the time the search titan was reorganised under a new umbrella company Alphabet in 2015, the motto received a fresh coat of paint:

“Don’t be evil.” Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But “Don’t be evil” is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. …

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Image: Somecards.com

Facebook is an incredible tool for catching up with friends and everyone alike. There is no denying it.

But let’s also not forget that the social network was built on the very foundation of undermining user privacy, right from the days when it was called FaceMash.

Built as a Harvard version of Am I Hot or Not, FaceMash courted trouble in November 2003 when Mark E. Zuckerberg, then a sophomore student at the university (interestingly, he majored in Psychology), was accused of “breaching security, violating copyrights and violating individual privacy by creating the website, www.facemash.com.”

The site was created entirely by Zuckerberg over the last week in October, after a friend gave him the idea. The website used photos compiled from the online facebooks of nine Houses, placing two next to each other at a time and asking users to choose the “hotter” person. …


Ravie Lakshmanan

Computational Journalist | Privacy Enthusiast | Software Developer https://ravielakshmanan.github.io

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