Facebook’s founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg faced two days of grilling before US politicians, in April 2018, following concerns over how his company deals with people’s data.
But the data Facebook has on people who are not signed up to the social media giant also came under scrutiny.
During Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony he claimed to be ignorant of what are known as “shadow profiles”.
Zuckerberg: I’m not — I’m not familiar with that.
That’s alarming, given that we have been discussing this element of Facebook’s non-user data collection for the past five years, ever since the practice was brought to light by researchers at Packet Storm Security.
Maybe it was just the phrase “shadow profiles” with which Zuckerberg was unfamiliar. It wasn’t clear, but others were not impressed by his answer.
Facebook’s proactive data-collection processes have been under scrutiny in previous years, especially as researchers and journalists have delved into the workings of Facebook’s “Download Your Information” and “People You May Know” tools to report on shadow profiles.
To explain shadow profiles simply, let’s imagine a simple social group of three people – Ashley, Blair and Carmen – who already know one another, and have each others’ email address and phone numbers in their phones.
If Ashley joins Facebook and uploads her phone contacts to Facebook’s servers, then Facebook can proactively suggest friends whom she might know, based on the information she uploaded.
For now, let’s imagine that Ashley is the first of her friends to join Facebook. The information she uploaded is used to create shadow profiles for both Blair and Carmen — so that if Blair or Carmen joins, they will be recommended Ashley as a friend.
Next, Blair joins Facebook, uploading his phone’s contacts too. Thanks to the shadow profile, he has a ready-made connection to Ashley in Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature.
At the same time, Facebook has learned more about Carmen’s social circle — in spite of the fact that Carmen has never used Facebook, and therefore has never agreed to its policies for data collection.
Despite the scary-sounding name, I don’t think there is necessarily any malice or ill will in Facebook’s creation and use of shadow profiles.
It seems like a earnestly designed feature in service of Facebooks’s goal of connecting people. It’s a goal that clearly also aligns with Facebook’s financial incentives for growth and garnering advertising attention.
But the practice brings to light some thorny issues around consent, data collection, and personally identifiable information.
Some of the questions Zuckerberg faced highlighted issues relating to the data that Facebook collects from users, and the consent and permissions that users give (or are unaware they give).
Facebook is often quite deliberate in its characterisations of “your data”, rejecting the notion that it “owns” user data.
That said, there are a lot of data on Facebook, and what exactly is “yours” or just simply “data related to you” isn’t always clear. “Your data” notionally includes your posts, photos, videos, comments, content, and so on. It’s anything that could be considered as copyright-able work or intellectual property (IP).
What’s less clear is the state of your rights relating to data that is “about you”, rather than supplied by you. This is data that is created by your presence or your social proximity to Facebook.
Examples of data “about you” might include your browsing history and data gleaned from cookies, tracking pixels, and the like button widget, as well as social graph data supplied whenever Facebook users supply the platform with access to their phone or email contact lists.
Like most internet platforms, Facebook rejects any claim to ownership of the IP that users post. To avoid falling foul of copyright issues in the provision of its services, Facebook demands (as part of its user agreements and Statement of Rights and Responsibilites) a:
…non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.
If you’re on Facebook then you’ve probably seen a post that keeps making the rounds every few years, saying:
In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details…
Part of the reason we keep seeing data scares like this is that Facebook’s lacklustre messaging around user rights and data policies have contributed to confusion, uncertainty and doubt among its users.
It was a point that Republican Senator John Kennedy raised with Zuckerberg (see video). Senator John Kennedy’s exclamation is a strong, but fair assessment of the failings of Facebook’s policy messaging:
After the grilling
Zuckerberg and Facebook should learn from this congressional grilling that they have struggled and occasionally failed in their responsibilities to users.
It’s important that Facebook make efforts to communicate more strongly with users about their rights and responsibilities on the platform, as well as the responsibilities that Facebook owes them.
This should go beyond a mere awareness-style PR campaign. It should seek to truly inform and educate Facebook’s users, and people who are not on Facebook, about their data, their rights, and how they can meaningfully safeguard their personal data and privacy.
Given the magnitude of Facebook as an internet platform, and its importance to users across the world, the spectre of regulation will continue to raise its head.
Ideally, the company should look to broaden its governance horizons, by seeking to truly engage in consultation and reform with Facebook’s stakeholders – its users — as well as the civil society groups and regulatory bodies that seek to empower users in these spaces.
About The Author
Andrew Quodling, PhD candidate researching governance of social media platforms, Queensland University of Technology
Are we really being ourselves on social media? Can we benefit from connecting with people we barely know online? Why do some people overshare on social networking sites?
The Psychology of Social Media explores how so much of our everyday lives is played out online, and how this can impact our identity, wellbeing and relationships. It looks at how our online profiles, connections, status updates and sharing of photographs can be a way to express ourselves and form connections, but also highlights the pitfalls of social media including privacy issues.
From FOMO to fraping, and from subtweeting to selfies, The Psychology of Social Media shows how social media has developed a whole new world of communication, and for better or worse is likely to continue to be an essential part of how we understand our selves.
Creating Value With Social Media Analytics: Managing, Aligning, and Mining Social Media Text, Networks, Actions, Location, Aps, Hyperlinks, Multimedia, & Search Engines Data
Binding: Kindle Edition
Format: Kindle eBook
Studio: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Label: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Manufacturer: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
In Creating Value with Social Media Analytics, we draw on developments in social media analytics theories and tools to develop a comprehensive social media value creation framework that allows readers to define, align, capture, and sustain value through social media data. The book offers concepts, strategies, tools, tutorials, and case studies that brands need to align, extract, and analyze a variety of social media data, including text, actions, networks, multimedia, apps, hyperlinks, search engines, and location data. By the end of this book, the readers will have mastered the theories, concepts, strategies, techniques, and tools necessary to extract business value from big social media that help increase brand loyalty, generate leads, drive traffic, and ultimately make sound business decisions. Here is how the book is organized.
Chapter 1: Creating Value with Social Media Analytics
Chapter 2: Understanding Social Media
Chapter 3: Understanding Social Media Analytics
Chapter 4: Analytics-Business Alignment
Chapter 5: Capturing Value with Network Analytics
Chapter 6: Capturing Value with Text Analytics
Chapter 7: Capturing Value with Actions Analytics
Chapter 8: Capturing Value with Search Engine Analytics
Chapter 9: Capturing Value with Location Analytics
Chapter 10: Capturing Value with Hyperlinks Analytics
Chapter 11: Capturing Value with Mobile Analytics
Chapter 12: Capturing Value with Multimedia Analytics
Chapter 13: Social Media Analytics Capabilities
Chapter 14: Social Media Security, Privacy, & Ethics
The book has a companion site (https://analytics-book.com/) which offers useful instructors resources.
Praises for the book
“Gohar F. Khan has a flair for simplifying the complexity of social media analytics. Creating Value with Social Media Analytics is a beautifully delineated roadmap to creating and capturing business value through social media. It provides the theories, tools, and creates a roadmap to leveraging social media data for business intelligence purposes. Real world analytics cases and tutorials combined with a comprehensive companion site make this an excellent textbook for both graduate and undergraduate students.”
—Robin Saunders, Director of the Communications and Information Management Graduate Programs, Bay Path University.
“Creating Value with Social Media Analytics offers a comprehensive framework to define, align, capture, and sustain business value through social media data. The book is theoretically grounded and practical, making it an excellent resource for social media analytics courses.”
—Haya Ajjan, Director & Associate Professor, Elon Center for Organizational Analytics, Elon University.
“Gohar Khan is a pioneer in the emerging domain of social media analytics. This latest text is a must-read for business leaders, managers, and academicians, as it provides a clear and concise understanding of business value creation through social media data from a social lens.”
—Laeeq Khan, Director, Social Media Analytics Research Team, Ohio University.
“Whether you are coming from a business, research, science or art background, Creating Value with Social Media Analytics is a brilliant induction resource for those entering the social media analytics industry. The insightful case studies and carefully crafted tutorials are the perfect supplements to help digest the key concepts introduced in each chapter.”
—Jared Wong, Social Media Data Analyst, Digivizer
“Creating Value with Social Media Analytics is one of the most comprehensive books on social media analytics that I have come across recently.”
—Bobby Swar, Assistant Professor, Concordia University, Canada.
- Daxton Stewart
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat allow users to connect with one another and share information with the click of a mouse or a tap on a touchscreen―and have become vital tools for professionals in the news and strategic communication fields. But as rapidly as these services have grown in popularity, their legal ramifications aren’t widely understood. To what extent do communicators put themselves at risk for defamation and privacy lawsuits when they use these tools, and what rights do communicators have when other users talk about them on social networks? How can an entity maintain control of intellectual property issues―such as posting copyrighted videos and photographs―consistent with the developing law in this area? How and when can journalists and publicists use these tools to do their jobs without endangering their employers or clients?
Including two new chapters that examine First Amendment issues and ownership of social media accounts and content, Social Media and the Law brings together thirteen media law scholars to address these questions and more, including current issues like copyright, online impersonation, anonymity, cyberbullying, sexting, and live streaming. Students and professional communicators alike need to be aware of laws relating to defamation, privacy, intellectual property, and government regulation―and this guidebook is here to help them navigate the tricky legal terrain of social media.