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Saturday, April 28, 2018

What social networks and search engines do with your data?

Por Jade

Social networks are already an important part of our lives. We use them to contact friends and family, search for news and even to look for a job. Its use has been extended in recent times and now reaches almost everyone. Almost three out of four people who use the internet are part of Facebook. These are very positive figures that translate into revenues for these companies that have revolutionized the internet.

Making money is one of the main objectives of a company. Although in certain sectors monetizing the results is not always easy. What makes social networks a channel for business is the number of users that each one of them has. But these days the scandal Facebook aroused the concern and doubts of Internet users about the use of their data collected by social networks and search engines.

What social networks do? They collect data: Everything a user writes, for example on he/she Facebook page or in other of his/her "friends", all the photos or videos he/she publishes, all the "Like" about which he/she clicks, all that he/she shares, everything you consult, the identity of the users with whom you interact, or your geolocation. The same happens with Instagram and WhatsApp, affiliates of Facebook, Snapchat or Twitter, although the range is smaller in these latter platforms. If the user authorizes it, Facebook can also search for information on the websites that he/she visits while he/she is connected to the social network.

Data they sell: Facebook ensures that it does not sell to its advertiser customers the personally identifiable data or the aggregated data. What it sells is the possibility of an advertiser reaching the target audience among Facebook users, thus multiplying the effectiveness of a campaign. "Facebook is not in the business of selling data, it's in the sale of pixels," summarizes Ryan Matzner, co-founder of Fueled, a company that creates applications for customers. Twitter, on the other hand, sells tweets, or rather access to an internal search engine to see all the messages published in a given period.

What they share: The vast majority of social networks open their doors to external companies that create applications that are partially or totally nourished by the exploitation of the data of users of these networks. In the case of Facebook, the public part, that is, the entire page for some, only the name, surname and photo for others, does not need the user's authorization, explains Ryan Matzner. On the other hand, the use of the rest requires the consent of the interested party, he affirms. Only the banking or payment data that Facebook has are out of bounds.

However, Matzner says, "many things that were possible five, six or seven years ago are no longer because Facebook was more open at that time." But when the data is collected by these applications, they escape to Facebook or other social networks. "It's like applying a rule over which Facebook has no jurisdiction or interest, and there are no tools (to recover them), even if someone promises," explains Chirag Shah, a professor at Rutgers University and a specialist in social media data.

"When someone accesses these data, Facebook has no way of knowing what they will do with them," says Matzner. "They can only believe in their word, it's like sending an email and wondering what the recipient will do with it.

In the case of the search engines they also collect data from their users: All data concerning searches, geolocation or other information consulted. Like Google, Yahoo! (Oath group) or Bing (Microsoft), the main search engines are integrated into the Internet giants that propose several other services to Internet users. Through them, the groups collect additional data, which, crossed with those gathered by the search engines, trace an even more precise profile of the Internet user. "You do not need to tell Google your age or your sex," explains Chirag Shah. "They can determine it thanks to a multitude of other factors."

The data they sell: Like social networks, their income comes largely from advertising. They do not sell data, but rather access to a consumer with very precise characteristics, as a result of the crossing of data from the search engine, but also in the case of Google, of all the searches and content seen on YouTube, its subsidiary. What they share: They open the doors to other programmers and applications, and social networks.

In the United States there is almost no law that protects the use of data from social networks or search engines. But the regulatory authority, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), monitors and has sanctioned Facebook as of 2011 for its management of personal data. It also concluded an agreement with Google in 2013 for practices that undermined competition. In Canada and Europe, there are limits to the use of data, especially for health-related information, explains Ryan Berger, of the Canadian subsidiary of the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright. It emphasizes however that the jurisprudence on these matters is almost nonexistent.

In Europe, Facebook was sanctioned in 2017 with a fine of about 135 million dollars by the European Commission for sharing personal data with WhatsApp. In France, the National Commission for Information Technology and Liberties (CNIL) applied in May 2017 a fine of $ 185,000 to Facebook for "faults" in its management of user data. The new general regulation on data protection (RGPD), a European text that will come into force on May 25, will define clearer rules in data collection.