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BIG BROTHER: Popular Tele-Conference Company Zoom Hands Over Personal Data to Facebook

The Orwellian nightmare is really coming to life due to coronavirus.

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Zoom, a company that offers a popular video conferencing app that is taking off due to the coronavirus shutdown, is funneling the personal data of its users over to Facebook, as the service is weak on protecting the privacy rights of its customers.

VICE Motherboard analyzed Zoom’s iOS app for cell phones and determined that it was sending information to Facebook. This is because of Zoom’s use of Facebook’s software development kits (SDK) in order to improve the features on the app. This is a common way that Facebook funnels data from other apps into their systems to bolster their monopoly in the tech sector.

“That’s shocking. There is nothing in the privacy policy that addresses that,” said Pat Walshe, an activist from Privacy Matters who has analyzed Zoom’s privacy policy, to VICE reporters on Twitter.

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Zoom users are likely blissfully unaware of the app’s data-sharing agreement with Facebook. Facebook may be collecting data from individuals who do not even use their software, showing how the monolithic corporation’s tentacles are extremely pervasive and difficult for consumers to avoid.

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Facebook is informed anytime a Zoom user opens the app on their mobile phone. Facebook is also made aware of the cell phone model, the city and time zone the user is in while connecting, the phone carrier of the user while accessing the app, and a unique identifier that can be used to target the specific individual in an advertisement buy.

“I think users can ultimately decide how they feel about Zoom and other apps sending beacons to Facebook, even if there is no direct evidence of sensitive data being shared in current versions,” said Will Strafach, who founded the privacy-centered app Guardian, to VICE reporters.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) had previously discovered a similar relationship that Facebook has with Ring, an app-driven device that captures remote videos at a user’s home of who is at the door.

“Our testing, using Ring for Android version 3.21.1, revealed PII delivery to branch.io, mixpanel.com, appsflyer.com and facebook.com. Facebook, via its Graph API, is alerted when the app is opened and upon device actions such as app deactivation after screen lock due to inactivity. Information delivered to Facebook (even if you don’t have a Facebook account) includes time zone, device model, language preferences, screen resolution, and a unique identifier (anon_id), which persists even when you reset the OS-level advertiser ID,” the EFF wrote earlier this year.

In addition to funneling privileged information to Facebook without it being listed in their privacy policy, Zoom does a poor job of protecting its users’ privacy rights for other reasons. The EFF notes that Zoom administrators can track whether its users are paying attention as well as access the IP address, location data, operating system and device information of users.

Even when they are not handing over information to Facebook in suspicious fashion, Zoom does little to protect its users from invasive measures.

Free Speech

YOUR NEW MASTER: Twitter’s Head of Conversational Safety, a “Young, Queer Asian-American Businesswoman,” is “Rethinking” the Concept of User Safety

Do you trust someone like her to make Twitter “a safer place”?

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The media company Protocol, a sister site of Politico, recently published an article about Twitter’s new “head of product for conversational safety,” Christine Su. It claims that Su, a “young, queer Asian-American businesswoman,” is revolutionizing what “user safety” on social media means.

Twitter hired Su around six months ago to be in charge of “what might be the most difficult task on Twitter,” despite having no apparent experience in politics, programming, and media relations. But Twitter seems to like her for her “creative” and “somewhat radical new ideas” about user safety.

“As a queer woman of color who is an Asian American in tech in rural America, that experience is a very intersectional one. I’ve had plenty of experiences moving through spaces where I wanted more safety,” Su said.

Protocol writes that Su’s vision incorporates “transformative and procedural justice.” Transformative justice ostensibly refers to a non-retributive form of repairing harm done to someone and preventing it from happening again; procedural justice to enacting a set of rules that “make harm rarer in the first place.”

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This all sounds nice and dandy—but beware. So-called transformative and procedural justice will not benefit you, but will crush you. Anything that’s perceived as “harmful” against “women and people from marginalized groups” can and will be used to censor you. Christine Su may reassuringly claim that “the point is not to make the entire world a safe space,” but she’s open about the fact that she will help give the Coalition of the Fringes more control over what people are allowed to do and say on Twitter.

Examples from the article:

  • Creating an audio hangout feature called “Spaces,” which will allow users to determine who is allowed to participate, as well as who can speak and when. (Note that it’s being tested on “women and marginalized groups of people” first.)
  • Potentially doubling down on functions that “encourage people to read content before reposting it.” (Which is exclusively done to censor or limit the reach of conservative and other right-wing content.)
  • Building tools that “create private pathways for apologies, forgiveness and deescalation.” (The finer details are still a work in progress according to Su.)
  • Defining what a “meaningful conversation” is. (Would people like Su think that anything right-wingers say or believe belongs in a “meaningful conversation”? Let’s just say I wouldn’t bet money on it…)

You know full well that a company like Facebook would shortly follow suit. After all, it’s not just Twitter that Su is “revolutionizing,” but the concept of social media itself. Figure out where all this is heading.

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