21 May 2019 - 6 minute read

Into ... goes Facebook, Google, Windows, Instagram, Whatsapp, Reddit, Snapchat, YouTube, Discord, and the rest.

While I have specific reasons for each of these, there is an overarching theme. Considering I've only really been sharing this site from Mastodon, I expect that most people will know exactly what this theme is, but I'm putting this up as it's a topic I'm interested in and want to share - and that's kind of the point...

So, let's look at Facebook as an example. Say you use Facebook. You probably have a pinned browser tab with it in and it will automatically log you in when you open your browser. You have it installed on your phone which is always on and logged in. You may also have a number of websites that you've used Facebook to login to, and you may have a number of programs on your phone for which you have done the same.

Now, your phone is very good at knowing where it is. It has a GPS chip in it, and the LTE connection in the modem as well as the Wifi chip are great at scanning for access points and using their IPs to know where the phone is. It's therefore very safe to say that your phone always knows where it is.

Now, Facebook is a free service. It doesn't cost anything to create an account and it doesn't cost anything to use. There are no features locked behind paywalls, but Facebook have to make their money somehow right? Well, that Facebook app running in the background on your phone all the time that you gave location data access to isn't sat there doing nothing. All that detailed location data is just the tiniest crumb of what gets sent off to Facebook, along with every post you make, every comment, every "private" message, every picture, video, like, reaction, sticker, all of it. And that's not even including all the information coming from everything you've used Facebook to sign into. So, Facebook knows where you are all the time, and it knows what you're doing, how you're feeling, and you've given it a nice list of all your interests and hobbies as part of the profile-making process too - just to be sure all bases are covered.

Now that's a lot of information to be trusting anyone with, let alone Facebook. So, what do you think this company does with it all? It needs to make money, and it has all this data on hundreds of millions of people. It really doesn't take an idiot to figure out that the only thing to do is sell all of it to whomever will pay the most. You can never be certain of what companies are receiving this data, how many there are, and what those companies do it in turn. You could trivially commit identity theft with all the information a lot of people have on their profiles. When you have such a complete image of a person in raw data and metrics, you have complete control.

The use of the data that these companies push is all they do with it is advertising, but it's really not that harmless. You don't need to imagine a situation in which you messaged someone about wanting a certain product, only to start seeing adverts for it, or downloading a game on your phone only to start seeing adverts for similar games on your desktop, because these situations are real and happen, because you're in this giant network of spyware all gossiping to each other like there's no tomorrow and human lives don't matter.

Reddit is an unfortunate story, because they started FOSS and were transparent, but reach a certain mass, start rolling out the redesign, close up source, and start tracking people to squeeze out more money. On the other side you have Microsoft which is a particularly malicious case. It their (presumably deliberately) unreadably long EULA, you will find a section that states that Microsoft may read your emails, look at your pictures, and copy and keep any file on your computer - private/confidential/sensitive or not. Oh and there's also a keylogger. You have a company that is so mindlessly spying on all these people, yet is somehow also getting away with sealing deals with powering the infrastructure of many countries' governments, so what do you think they do when the details of every single resident of a country is in a data centre running Windows? I don't even need to answer that one.

I used to use several of these things. I used to have a Facebook account, a Discord account, a Reddit account, had a Google account for Google Drive, Gmail, and YouTube (and obviously used their search engine), and ran Windows on my computer. I'm now very happy not to be involved in any of them. No more Facebook or Reddit, welcome Mastodon. No more Discord, welcome Matrix. No more Google, welcome DuckDuckGo, Protonmail, and Invidious. No more Windows, welcome Linux.

I totally get that ditching these platforms is challenging when all the people you talk to are only reachable over spyware platforms, but shouldn't that be all more a reason to coax them away? Do it for your friends and family.


Ethics - Internet


Copyright Oliver Ayre 2019. Site licensed under the GNU Affero General Public Licence version 3 (AGPLv3).