I was dismayed to read the following article from CNBC today. And I am sure you will be as well, if you use any Google service at all. I am sure all of you use one or the other type of Google service, such as Gmail, YouTube, etc.,
Read the article written by Todd Haselton on 25th April 2019 at https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/25/how-to-stop-google-from-storing-your-location-history.html?&qsearchterm=how%20to%20stop%20google
You will be shocked to see the level of detail that Google keeps about you on its servers. Especially if you have turned on the location services, you will be surprised to find out that every movement of yours is being tracked by Google.
Is this the right thing for the user of Google services? The jury is totally out on this issue as we have seen a series of data scandals affecting these famous social media companies. I do not think that users can totally trust them anymore. While Google says that only you can see your data, it takes just one more data breach by yet another fantastic hacker out there.
Even democratic governments the world over are now going after these companies to control privacy, fake news, spread of hate news, and terrorist preachings. Almost anyone can maintain a Facebook page and propagate his hate agenda against the rest of us. Where does it stop?
Previously, such bad guys were running their own websites which were tracked by law enforcement and taken down if they ever crossed the limits. Now we have to depend on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google to enforce mechanisms of law enforcement on a voluntary basis, which have not worked out to the satisfaction of governments, individual users, corporate users, and law enforcement officials. The European Union has taken the hardest stand against social media companies especially when it comes to safeguarding the privacy of individual users located in EU countries. Large fines have been imposed (in various cases).
Notwithstanding all the turmoil surrounding them, these companies are still flourishing in the U.S. and globally as well. Look at their stock prices! As individuals, we may not be able to make our protest heard loudly when it comes to our own privacy, as we are not part of any social movement against social media. So, I took the next best action: I followed the recommendation by Todd Haselton in his above article, and deleted all history in various categories such as “Web & App Activity”, “Location History”, “Device Information”, “Voice & Audio Activity”, “YouTube Search History”, “YouTube Watch History”, etc., Just go to https://myaccount.google.com/privacycheckup
and do the needful for yourself!
I suppose we cannot ignore the possibility of such data being made available to a third party, or sold to a third party, or hacked by external agencies or hackers. This is simple common sense to control data about ourselves. There should be no excuse for not doing this – in fact, now I have started looking at all IT services that I use as an avid web user, specifically focusing on privacy and the kind of data about myself that I am willing to share with these services.
I was not surprised at all when the Sri Lankan Government decided to turn off social media access to its citizens. It was an unprecedented step, but much warranted in the aftermath of the recent terror attack on churches and hotels which killed 253 people last weekend. We cannot cry hoarse on the matter of freedom and liberty, when terrorism is spawned by leveraging access to social media. Governments have to take actions, and sometimes (not always) such actions might infringe on the fundamental rights of social media companies. I am sure the Sri Lankan citizens will understand why their government enforced such a ban on social media. The argument that social media are crucial for communication during disasters is of course valid, and the world has moved on from mobile SMS text messages to WhatsApp and other such effective tools. However, the decision on what to do in any specific situation has to be left to the best judgement of the law enforcement agencies, and not to libertarians and social media companies.
Increasingly, the battle field on social media is shaping up around the world. People do recognise the positive aspects of social media for various purposes, especially communication one-to-one or to a socially connected private community. I use WhatsApp extensively every day – it takes up most of my mobile screen time. I stopped using Facebook couple of years ago (prescient, it appears!), and do not use any of the other social media except LinkedIn for corporate and business use. I got out of even Google Plus services quite some time ago. However, I cannot be complacent – I am investigating all my “touch” points with the web via any kind of app, to see what kind of personal information is “forcibly” or “unconsciously” being shared. Of course, this is my own website on WordPress platform, and I am not censoring it!
On privacy matters, I tend to side more with the EU than with the U.S., except on matters involving crime or violence. Privacy should remain sacrosanct, except when law enforcement seeks access to your personal data with appropriate legal warrants for a justifiable purpose – it cannot be on a fishing expedition. I am against community or sectarian policing – one bad apple is still one bad apple only, and an entire community cannot be blamed, monitored or tracked because that one bad apple is a violent criminal or murderer or a terrorist. It is pertinent to point out in this context that the specific community or sect will do well to identify bad apples in the midst of them, and try to correct their ill-advised ways, and if that does not work, report them to law enforcement. Even tacit silence will be construed as support for the bad apples in their midst, and these bad elements could then feel encouraged.
The U.S. government believes that it can and should access ANYBODY’s personal devices, irrespective of whether that person is a suspected criminal or not. Even ordinary, regular travellers to the U.S. have been subjected to this particularly overbearing exercise of border protection officers. What the government does with the data that they retrieve from those devices is anybody’s guess. This does not happen in any other country, to the best of my knowledge.
Turning “off” social media in very serious situations like a terror attack, as recently happened in Sri Lanka”, is to be supported due to various reasons, the most critical being the spread of intentionally malicious information which could cause panic amongst the general public, and aggravate an already worse situation for the government and law enforcement. I entirely agree that it is the right thing to do under the special circumstances, and I am sure that the Sri Lankan government will turn “on” the social media that it switched off very soon, once investigations are completed.
The inconvenience caused due to such a ban will be best understood by the affected citizens, and should not be misconstrued as censorship.
I think it is high time for social media companies to increase their own self-censorship and prove that they are responsible corporate citizens in the very near future. Otherwise, they will be fined, regulated and controlled by the government(s), and deserted by users such as myself!
28th April 2019