November , 2020
Social media bio-data – an exposure to threat
11:46 am

Kuntala Sarkar


Social media bio-data is something that gives social network sites a direct exposure to the users’ personal lives. Personal information that is expected to be completely personal, whenever it is put into a social network, is no more private information. Immediately it becomes a tool to reach to that particular person virtually and the information is treated as public without the user’s permission. Along with the posts one upload, social media bio-data is the basic ground by which a person’s background can be understood initially. This data is traded by various data harvesting companies.


Behavioural advertisement targeting is a term that identifies the practice of tailoring advertisements according to an individual’s personal interests. Social networks provide their services without any ‘user fees’ but make profits by selling advertisement opportunities. It becomes possible because of the personal information or bio-data these platforms collect to comprise large scale user’s data. Mostly, social networks have agreements with certain websites and applications that allow them access to public information of all users of the social network. Tristan Harris, former Design Ethicist of Google and Co-founder of the Centre for Human Technology in a documentary titled ‘The Social Dilemma’, informed, “It is a disinformation-for-profit business model. You make more money - the more you allow unregulated messages to reach anyone for the best price.”


How does it happen?


There are several ways by which users’ identifying information can be violated such as information leaking by an app created by the digital platform. Talking about this, Indranil Naiya, a cyber security expert told, BE, “At the time of the installation process we accept their terms and conditions and allow that application to be installed in our phone. At the time of installation that application receives a special token named ‘access token’ and some of the apps were leaking these tokens to advertisers - granting them access to personal profile data. Thus, the users’ online safety and privacy are put to risk. Online social tracking is another problem. Through cookies, which are small files placed in the computer, the user can be tracked across different sites. It gets stored when we log in to that site and it allows the social sites to track the interest and the purchasing behaviour of a user. Sometimes, social sites allow companies to place ad on a cookie so that they track or gather information about you and your internet privacy is invaded badly.”


Using third-party applications is also dangerous as they may contain malware designed to attack the user’s device. They also have direct access to the user’s personal identifying information or bio-data. Naiya added, “There are several chances of getting hacked or scammed by a cybercriminal. Extra precautions should be taken while accessing public Wi-Fi as a Man in the Middle (MITM) attack can happen. The dangers are cyber-bullying, invasion of privacy and identify theft. If a hacker gets a photo, private information such as email, phone number and personal information of a person, he can open a fake account and pretend to be the original one. He can then add close people and friends of the actual user to scam the friends or spread rumours. To avoid such situations, the user should use a system with an up-to-date operating system and with updated antivirus solutions. A safe internet browsing habit can protect a user from such privacy invading issues.”


Larger concern


If any political campaign is being conducted in the social networks, then they will need the users’ personal information to fix their ‘strategy’. Bio-data helps them to fix a list of to whom and when to reach virtually. In this course, people experience large scale of misinformation, disinformation and fake news - unknowingly. Most importantly, these are not just fake news, but fake news with ‘consequences’ in the larger socio-political scenario.


Shoshana Zuboff, Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School stated in the above-mentioned documentary, “Facebook conducted a ‘massive-scale’ contagion experiments’ about how do people use subliminal cues on the Facebook pages to get more people to go vote in the midterm election? They discovered that they were able to do that.” She added, “One thing they concluded is that they now knew that that can affect real-world behaviours and emotions, without ever triggering the user’s awareness. They are completely clueless.” Even in India, people have experienced lynching and riots which were triggered by social media campaigns.




Creating a new email address, only for the social media handles can be a visible option. Then the platforms cannot directly track the users’ other personal and financial information. But then Google will still be there to poke. The user should provide the minimum amount of personal information. Sharing location or address is another possible threat to personal data. It will drag the so-called virtual world to the users’ very physical existence. Users should be very careful while filling the bio-data information, financial information and the Aadhaar card or pan card details on a social media site. Not accepting the ‘friendship request’ from an unknown person is another layer of security. The last and most important concern is staying away from the trap of click-bait. The fun games users encounter in various social networks is nothing but tools to collect more information about the particular user and should be avoided at all costs.



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