The Real Privacy Nightmare Is The Information We Voluntarily Hand Over to Shady Apps


In the very, very early days of proto-Facebook, back when the current social media leader was still trying to get traction among Harvard students, Mark Zuckerberg was IMing with a friend when he offered “info about anyone at Harvard,” including “4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS.” When the friend asked how this was possible, Zuckerberg replied “People just submitted it. They ‘trust me.’ Dumb fucks.”

One could argue that Zuckerberg was just making a dark joke, and/or that Facebook has long since beefed up its security and privacy policies as it grew into the dominant social network with 1.5 billion users. However, the most telling bit from that exchange is that so many people would be willing to give up personal, very exploitable information, just for the use of a new service that facilitated social interaction.

The same thing is happening today, as we use apps that request all kinds of access to you and your information for their use. The most recent evidence of this phenomenon is an online quiz from VonVon called “What Are Your Most Used Words on Facebook.” (SMT has previously covered the viral popularity of the quiz in an article by Sarah Snow.)

According to Paul Bischoff of Comparitech, over 16 million people have taken this quiz, and by doing so have “given up almost every private detail about themselves to a company they likely know nothing about just to play a quiz.”

Bischoff’s post, the bluntly titled “That ‘most used words’ Facebook quiz is a privacy nightmare” sums up the problems with the quiz, listing the information VonVon asks for in order to take the quiz:

  • Name, profile picture, age, sex, birthday, and other public info
  • Entire friend list
  • Everything you’ve ever posted on your timeline
  • All of your photos and photos you’re tagged in
  • Education history
  • Hometown and current city
  • Everything you’ve ever liked
  • IP address
  • Info about the device you’re using including browser and language

Bischoff then mercilessly digs through VonVon’s privacy policy to hack apart the loopholes and tricks in the legalese that allow the company to do basically whatever it wants with your info: VonVon can continue to use your data even after you’ve closed and deleted your account. Your data can be held anywhere on earth, “including countries without strong privacy laws.” And much more.

VonVon itself, as noted in our previous article on the quiz, states the following about the data it gathers:

“We use the information and data We collect in connection with operation, maintenance and enhancement of our services and features, and for other administrative purposes or internal operations, such as communicating with our users, data analysis, testing and research,” according to the VonVon privacy policy. They claim not to share data with third parties except to let advertisers know how well their ads are doing and their reach.

As above, the third-party claim is excepted if you give them permission, the problem being that, as Bischoff notes, by playing the quiz you give them permission. So basically any company that VonVon shares its info with also has the same level of access to your account, and if you try to change any of the privacy settings, you can’t take the quiz.

VonVon is far from the only company that has these kind of practices, but, as I stated, what alarms me is the utter lack of caution that some people have with their personal information.

So, maybe the most pertinent issue with privacy and social media isn’t governments spying on us or hackers stealing our information, it’s what we give up, just by being asked. In which case, the dumb fucks at fault here would be us.

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Announcing Social Media Week’s Global Theme for 2016: “The Invisible Hand: Hidden Forces of Technology”


Here at Social Media Week, we have an obligation to help you understand technology’s role in our future, what it means for your business, and for our globally connected society.

Through engaging, entertaining, educational and diverse content and conversations, we will once again explore how technology, social media and mobile devices helps us work smarter and live more productive lives.

Breaking Down The 2016 Theme

The Invisible Hand: Hidden Forces of Technology (and How We Can Harness it for Good) will serve as our unifying theme throughout 2016 and will be unpacked and explored across our 18 SMW cities.

Our examination will look at four attributes of “The Invisible Hand”:

  1. Mobile technology: Devices such as mobile phones, and networks including Bluetooth, NFC, WiFi, 4G, etc., that can operate to some extent interactively and autonomously
  2. Networked connectivity: The means by which these devices and networks are able to connect to each other through routers, switches and gateways
  3. Data: Including the capture, analysis, curation, search, sharing, storage, transfer, and visualization of information
  4. Machine learning: The study and the construction of algorithms that can learn from and make predictions on data

When combined these attributes change everything. Whether it’s the way we consume media, engage with brands, access healthcare, vote, travel, choose restaurants, commute to work, collaborate on projects, or how we go about choosing a date, technology’s invisible hand plays a crucial role in decision-making, or the way n which we experience the world around us.

“The Invisible Hand” represents the intangible, under-valued processes driving our technology, and ultimately, our decisions, forward. As we become more efficient, dynamic, and diverse human-beings, we have the responsibility to understand the present and future potential of these hidden forces all around us.

SMW Global Theme 2016
SMW Global Theme 2016

The Origins of “The Invisible Hand”

In the 18th century, Adam Smith came up with “The Invisible Hand,” a metaphor that describes “unintended social benefits resulting from individual actions.

This phrase relates to the idea that society may benefit more from one individual’s pursuit of passion or interest than if that individual set out to impact his or her entire community or culture from the start. In a networked society we can look at “The Invisible Hand” metaphor in a slightly different way. Today, our individual actions cannot be isolated in regards to how we use technology.

When you request an Uber ride, recommend a book on Amazon, share a BuzzFeed article, watch a movie on Netflix, or ask Siri for directions, your actions are part of a collective set of actions that contribute to new outcomes. These new outcomes do not just impact you. They also help improve the products, services, and technologies around us, as well as overall life of everyone connected online to each other.

Two Sides of “The Invisible Hand” Conversation

However these outcomes are not always positive, and so if we are to remain vigilant as technology progresses, then we need to facilitate a dialogue that explores the various sides and perspectives of this ever-changing movement.

There are two sides to the Invisible Hand however, positive outcomes and negative drawbacks, both of which must be explored. As technology takes over more of our decision making there are moral and ethical implications to consider and we feel strongly that as a global community we are well positioned to host an open and constructive dialogue that looks at both sides.

Some real-life examples you might know, include:

Individual Action Collective Benefit Collective Drawbacks
Ordering an Uber Faster response times Lack of job stability when everyone’s a contractor
Rating a restaurant on Yelp Better recommendations Easily manipulated reviews
Pinning a picture on Pinterest Better product recommendations Working for free for retailers that get all the benefit
Watching a film on Netflix Better discovery of new things to watch based on popularity Fewer people have these shared experiences talking around the water-cooler
Endorsing a skill on LinkedIn Adding more objectivity and context to professionals resumes everywhere Gaming experience to get ahead
Sharing a Buzzfeed article on Facebook Allows for surfacing of more relevant and timely content Publishers seeking lowest common denominator of shareability rather than great reporting
Swiping left on Tinder Narrows the number of potential dates you’re presented with. Swiping right leads to greater casual sex, unwanted pregnancies, objectification of women, and more
Sharing location of traffic police on Waze Prevents others from being caught for speeding and other traffic offences. Encourages speeding and other forms of dangerous driving.
SMW Global Theme 2016
SMW Global Theme 2016

What’s Next and How Can You Contribute to the Conversation?

We’re excited to begin our year-long journey with you. Whether you attend Social Media Week in one of our 18 cities, or are just hearing about us for the first time, we hope you will participate in-person and online throughout the year.

Here are some of the best ways you can join Social Media Week in 2016:

Next year’s Social Media Week conferences will take place February 22-26, June 6-10, September 12-16, and November 14-18. If you’d like to get in touch with us regarding Social Media Week in 2016, you can follow us on Twitter and “Like” us on Facebook, and reach out to us there with your questions, ideas, feedback, and interests.

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