Snapchat’s New Snap Map–How It Shares Location

Exposure, Online privacy, Smartphones, Social Media

Last week, the social media application Snapchat released a new location sharing feature: Snap Map. Snaps can be added to the “Our Story” map, which is public, and is intended to show snaps related to world events. Snap locations can also be shared with friends. Location sharing is opt-in, as the app defaults users to “Ghost Mode,” meaning that location is not shared. However, Snapchat gives the impression in its introductory video that location is shared when a user posts a story. In reality, if a user is not in Ghost Mode, location is shared to the map (visible to the users’ friends) each time the app is opened. This results in the routine sharing of users’ home locations. It is inherently risky for those who frequently open Snapchat on the go, thereby leaking breadcrumbs of their daily trajectories.

Some additional details: While only mutual friends can see each other on the Snap Map, Snapchat is clearly collecting all of this data on user locations. The company claims to delete the location data after a short period of time, but does not specify the duration of this time period. If a user does not open the app for 8 hours, the last shared location disappears from the map.

Source: The Verge

Canada’s Supreme Court Strikes Down Clause of Facebook’s Terms of Use

Advertising, Exposure, Legislation, Online privacy, Social Media

A class action suit has been brought against Facebook in Canada. A Vancouver woman initially sued Facebook for featuring her name and photos in “Sponsored Stories” advertising, after she “liked” various company pages. The class action suit covers an estimated 1.8 million residents of British Columbia who had their names or photos used in Facebook’s Sponsored Stories. The suit encountered an initial hurdle in that Facebook’s terms of use include a clause of forum selection and “choice-of-law,” meaning that all disputes against the company must be reviewed in California, where it is headquartered. In a 4-3 decision, the Canada Supreme Court found that the clause is not enforceable in Canada. The ruling clears the way for the privacy case to now be tried in B.C. to evaluate the merits of the claim. The original suit seeks damages from Facebook for violation of the B.C. Privacy Act.

Source: CTV News

Former Intelligence Director Clapper Calls for Police Access to Encrypted Data

Police, Regulation, Smartphones, Social Media, Surveillance

Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence (under the Obama administration) James Clapper spoke in Australia last week, calling on Silicon Valley to develop encryption that allows law enforcement to access the encrypted content while investigating criminal acts. He claims that technology companies have a “social responsibility” to provide this access to the government. Clapper likened full encryption to giving a “pass” to “criminals, terrorists, rapids, murderers, et cetera.” The encryption debate came to widespread public attention following the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, after which Apple refused to unlock the iPhone 5c used by the shooter. The FBI sidestepped Apple by working with a third party to unlock the phone. Clapper also called for filtering out “some of the more egregious material that appears on social media.” At the same time, the former intelligence chief has also been outspoken in his criticism of Trump, stating last week that the Watergate scandal “pales” in comparison with Trump’s strong pro-Russia stance in the face of evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Sources: TechCrunch, Reuters

Twitter Cancelling Support for Do Not Track

Online privacy, Social Media

Twitter is releasing a new privacy policy on June 18th, in which it will announce its end of support for the Do Not Track browser setting. Twitter tracks users and non-users through tweet and follow buttons, as well as embedded tweets. Each time you visit a page that contains these, the page sends information to Twitter, which then plants a cookie, ultimately collecting your browsing history. In current practice, internet users may escape this by activating Do Not Track. Now, Twitter will use WebChoices from the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) to offer privacy settings. However, as noted in previous posts, WebChoices does not allow users to opt out of tracking; it just prevents them from seeing targeted ads. You are still tracked. EFF is calling this a big step backwards for Twitter and recommends following the steps here to protect privacy as a Twitter user. A bonus protection is to install their browser add-on, PrivacyBadger, which changes some social media buttons to static images to prevent tracking.

Source: EFF

Facebook Fined for Privacy-Adverse Data Practices

Online privacy, Regulation, Social Media

France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) has fined Facebook €150,000 ($166,400) for violation of data privacy. CNIL finds that the social networking site continues to collect sensitive user data without explicit consent and tracks activity on third-party sites through cookies without informing internet users. This is after CNIL gave Facebook 3 months to stop tracking non-users and transferring data to the USA. Facebook retains user IP addresses for the life of user accounts, which, CNIL says, the company has not demonstrated a need for. Facebook released a statement that it “respectfully disagree[s]” with CNIL’s findings, arguing that it should follow Ireland’s data protection rules, the country where its European headquarters resides. Other European data protection authorities (DPAs) have been investigating Facebook’s data behavior alongside France, and the Dutch DPA concurred on Tuesday that Facebook provides users “insufficient information about the use of their personal data.” In 2018, new European regulations will go into effect that could fine companies up to 4% of their global turnover (Facebook has about $27 billion in revenue in one year).

Source: The Verge

More Facebook Research Appears to Experiment With Users’ Emotional States

Online privacy, Social Media

A leaked document from Facebook Australia and reported on by the Australian states that Facebook algorithms can pinpoint the moments when teenagers “need a confidence boost.”  The users targeted are 6.5 millions students and young people–as young as 14–in Australia and New Zealand. The document, evidently intended for advertisers, claims that Facebook can identify moments when teens feel “insecure,” “overwhelmed,” or “worthless.” Facebook refutes that the document or methods are for advertisers, but instead are “to help marketers understand how people express themselves on Facebook.” I’m not sure there’s a difference here. Facebook also claims that the data used in this study are anonymous and aggregated. This argument means little if the intent is to eventually intervene with advertising on an individual level.

Source: ArsTechnica

A Note About Geofeedia

Smartphones, Social Media

Geofeedia is social surveillance. It is a perfect example of why GIS & Society education is so important and why critical GIS is more relevant than ever.

Geofeedia is (and maybe now was, after cutting half its staff) a platform for monitoring social media that is used to target unions, protestors, and activist groups, including #BlackLivesMatter. The U.S. defense and law enforcement industries have long been interested by “social radar,” and this CIA-backed company was given access to special topic feeds from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for monitoring individuals and groups in Baltimore and Ferguson. The ACLU brought this surveillance to light in Fall 2016, and these 3 social media sites subsequently suspended access to their topic APIs.

As Forbes notes, this is not a limited and singular case of social surveillance, but just one that the ACLU happened to target. They are simply one of the domestic “spy merchants” highlighted in yesterday’s post. Another point for contemplation: Facebook maintains that it was unaware that the data were used for this kind of surveillance, which, the Forbes article notes, is unlikely, as Geofeedia was a very high-profile company. While Geofeedia may be just one tip of the iceberg of government and corporate surveillance, it is progress that public attention helped to shut down their data streams.