New Eastern Outlook
by Grete Mautner
In an attempt to establish total control over the people, intelligence agencies have been collecting all sorts of data on every citizens in their respective countries, which remains the primary goal of those bodies, as the task of retaining power through all means possible remains the ultimate goal of all political elites. These duties have been successfully performed by such American agencies as the CIA, FBI and a host of other specialized agencies. To this end, a wide arsenal of tools and means both legal and semi-legal have been at play. But there’s little doubt that without the assistance of social network owners the deep state would be unable to amass the unprecedented amount of personal data they have already collected. So it must come as no surprise for anyone that Western intelligence agencies played no small part in the creation of those social network, as even today those agencies carry on taking advantage of those networks to pursue their own goals.
It’s noteworthy that on top of semi-official and semi-legal but yet well-established instances of social networks providing sensitive data of their users to American intelligence services, the Trump administration is now planning to start officially collecting personal data of all individuals who applied for a visa to enter the US.
This proposal implies that a person applying for a US entry permit will be required to provide his a list of his or her accounts on social networks on top of the travel record for the five past years and usual info. Among the accounts an individual is bound to reveal that are mentioned in the draft submitted by the State Department, there are not just Facebook and Twitter, but those registered in Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit and YouTube. Those new surveillance measures can potentially be affecting well over 14.7 million individuals a year.
However, American intelligence agencies are not just collecting data in Western social networks, they’ve also been trying to infiltrate those that operate in Russia, China, Iran – the states that were described as main opponents of the United States in the latest revision of the US security strategy. As early as in 2015, American authorities announced their intension of creating special units that are going to operate in Russia-based social networks – starting from “Odnoklassniki” and “VKontakte” and ending with Russian segments of Facebook and Twitter. The primarily goal of this so-called media department of the CIA is the collection of profiles of Russian citizens along with all sorts of operations in this segment of the Internet.
In recent years, the popularity of social networks has increased noticeably. Thus, according to the conclusion of NATO experts, 62% of US citizens base their judgment on the info obtained on social networks, with 44% using Facebook alone to form their opinions. Social networks have had giant growth spurts over the past couple of years, and it seems there’s one for everyone: from dogs to moms to book-worms to shoppers. It’s now a sort of a norm to spend one’s time in social networks, so there’s no wonder that there’s sites that creates lists of all social media available to the general public.
Last April, CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg testified in the US Congress, revealing a lot of curious facts about operations of the tech giant he runs, but he nevertheless refused to disclose all the capabilities that social networks provide the West with, allowing governments to exercise total control over the population of their states.
Social networks have not just become giant monopolies, those are enormous non-transparent manipulative tools, but as the Cambridge Analytica affair shows that can be manipulated by outside players. Thus, the enormous amount of personal data accumulated by social networks, that can be at times highly sensitive, remains out of the boundaries of legal relations which turns them into a new Data Bonanza for intelligence agencies and predatory businesses.
By now everyone has beome aware that Facebook is spying on you. In the practice of this network, there was even a function of automatic facial recognition, which the European Union demanded to bring down as early as in 2012. And recently their programmers have empowered their robots with simple text and video event recognition capabilities. The social network even in 2015 began testing a technology that allowed the system a person when in pictures event if he chose to turn his back on the camera. The hit percentage was surprisingly high – more than 80%. But it goes much further than that, as Facebook collects data about your clothes, posture and physical constitution. That is, you are identified automatically on any pictures and nobody is going to go as far as to ask your permission.
But, according to a study drafted by IT security experts from Belgium, Facebook monitors you even if you do not own an account on this social network. The report, that was drafted on demand of the Belgian data protection authority, list a list of possible ways that Facebook can still infect your computer with its spyware cookies. I’ts no matter what social network you visit or maybe you were inclined to watch music videos on MTV.com, you are going to be infected. But the most fascinating is that by visiting the site run by the European Digital Advertising Alliance, where users come to receive advise how not go be tracked on the Internet, you still going to end up with Facebook cookies implanted on your computer. However, should you decide to delete your account it will not erase the info accumulated by Facebook from the database – so it seems that what goes on the net, stays on the net.
Recent studies carried by a journalist of the New Zealand Herald, Nick Whigham show that Facebook has not just accumulated sensitive data of 1.4 billion users, but is also closely following the sites you visit and requests you make, even when they have nothing to do with Facebook itself. The algorithms of this network track your posts, record your tastes and preferences, the version of the operating system you’re using, your IP address and comments that you leave pretty much anywhere.
If you are curious to know just how much Facebook knows about you, you can try to download a copy of “your” data on Facebook, by finding this option in the settings. But you should be prepared that a ZIP file you’re going to get can be pretty large and the amount of info about you that you have no control over whatsoever can be really mind-boggling. Here’s what some Western journalists write about it:
So, what does Facebook know about you? The process of finding out is simple enough. There may be a delay. The folder may be big once you unzip it — mine weighed in at 224 megabytes, with over 3,300 files in 239 folders — so it may be best not to try this on your phone.
What arrived was all the photos and videos I’ve uploaded since I joined the platform in May of 2007, as well as all my messages and status updates.
It should be pointed out that for far too long our private info has been changing hands that would more often than not be pretty unscrupulous, so there’s a clear need for a legal framework being created around social networks. And this should be seriously taken up not only in the EU, but in the US Congress as well. It’s very possible that this drive can be supported by legislative bodies of other countries.
Grete Mautner is an independent researcher and journalist from Germany, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”