Sharing Goes Both Ways – No Secrets Social

A long time ago, I wrote a post on Personal Declarations on Your Behalf – Why Visiting One Website Might Tell Another You Were There that describes how publishers who host third party javascript on their website allow those third parties to track your visits to those websites.

This means I can’t just visit the UK Parliament website unnoticed, for example. Google get told about every page I visit on the site.

(I’m still not clear about the extent to which my personal Google identity (the one I log into Google with), my advertising Google identity (the one that collects information about the ads I’ve been shown and the pages I’ve visited that run Google ads), and my analytics Google identity (the one that collects information about the pages I’ve visited that run Google Analytics and that may be browser specific?) are: a) reconciled? b) reconcilable? I’m also guessing if I’m logged in to Chrome, my complete browsing history in that browser is associated with my Google personal identity?)

The Parliament website is not unusual in this respect. Google Analytics are all over the place.

In a post today linked to by @charlesarthur and yesterday by O’Reilly Radar, Gizmodo describes How Facebook Figures Out Everyone You’ve Ever Met.

One way of doing this is similar to the above, in the sense of other people dobbing you in.

For example, if you appear in the contacts on someone’s phone, and they allowed Facebook to “share” their phone contact details when they install the Facebook app (which many people do), Facebook gains access firstly to my contact details and secondly to the fact that I stand in some sort of relationship to you.

Facebook also has the potential to log that relationship against my data, even if I have never declared that relationship to Facebook.

So it’s not “my data” at all, in the sense of me having informed Facebook about the fact. It’s data “about me” that Facebook has collected from wherever it can.

I can see what I’ve told Facebook on my various settings pages, but I can’t see the “shadow information” that Facebook has learned about me from other people. Other than through taunts from Facebook about what it thinks it knows about me, such as friend suggestions for people it thinks I probably know (“People You May Know”), for example…

…or facts it might have harvested from people’s interactions with me. When did you, along with others, last wish someone “Happy Birthday” using social media, for example?

Even if individuals are learning how to use social media platforms to keep secrets from each other (Secrets and Lies Amongst Facebook Friends – Surprise Party Planning OpSec), those secrets are not being held from Facebook. Indeed, they may be announcing those secrets to it. (Is there a “secret party” event type?! For example, create a secret party event and then as the first option list the person or persons who should not be party to the details so Facebook can help you maintain the secrecy…?)

Hmm… thinks… when you know everything, you can use that information to help subsets of people keep secrets from intersecting sets of people? This is just like a twist on user and group permissions on multi-user computer systems,  but rather than using the system to grant or limit access to resources, you use it to control information flows around a social graph where the users set the access permissions on the information.

This is not totally unlike targeting ads (“dark ads”) to specific user groups, ads that are unseen by anyone outside those groups. Hmmm…


See also: Ad-Tech – A Great Way in To OSINT

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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