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He who sows the data reaps mistrust by Leila Delarive

Dernière mise à jour : 3 mars 2021

Tracking users is common on the web.

A web site can search for resources such as images and scripts on domains other than its own. This is called "cross-origin" or "cross-site loading" - and it's what makes the web so powerful. However, this feature also makes it possible to track users from one site to another. The famous cookies stored in the user's browser enable "cross-site tracking" and provide information about user behavior across the web to the owner of the cookie.

A very large number of sites use cookies; they must announce them and allow the user to accept and choose the type of cookie he/she wants to authorize.

Smile, you're under watch !

What about social media?

Nowadays, no one is supposed to be unaware that on Facebook, when we "like" a certain group, follow a certain personality, look at a certain photo, visit a certain website, or go to a certain place, we provide precise information to better reveal our digital identity. Our online behavior allows them to know who we are, what we like. As a result, advertising is targeted to our tastes.

If Facebook's system is so effective, it is because it has mastered the collection and sorting of Metadata - the valuable data extracted from all collected data. These metadata allow for even finer analysis; who we are, who we write to, when, and how often. Who our recipients write to and so on.

Getting your hands on these metadata is the gold rush.

Facebook acquired Whatsapp in 2014. This acquisition gave it the metadata of all the users of this communication app, to better scrutinize them.

In August 2016, Whatsapp updated its privacy policy, announcing in particular the exchange of information about its users and their metadata with Facebook. However, Whatsapp ensured end-to-end encryption of communications: messages, photos and any other content exchanged between users is not revealed. Whatsapp and Facebook do not have access to the content of users' communications, but Whatsapp collects all other information, such as phone number, how the app is used, how long the app is used, and interaction with other users.

What is the purpose of collecting all these data?

Many advertisers use Facebook to reach their potential customers in a highly targeted way by advertising on its channels.

Wherefore is advertising on Facebook so effective? Because it exploits users' data, tracking them not only when they are on Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp (apps bought out by Facebook), but also when they are outside the network, accessing their location, their email, and all kinds of other information that offers a fine analysis of their behavior.

Today, Facebook is one of the most efficient distribution networks in terms of targeted advertising, with an efficient data strategy, which is so much criticized.

Playing with fire, you end up burning your fingers

Whatsapp users saw a window appear this week informing them that they have until February 8th to accept the new terms of use and privacy to continue using the app.

While the announced changes do not bring anything fundamentally new, they have stirred up emotions among many users, who have decided to stop using Whatsapp to try other more trustworthy apps.

And this even though Whatsapp and Facebook are subject to the privacy shield ( and the RGDP, two regulatory mechanisms designed to protect the data of the users of these apps.

The lesson of the story?

Facebook suffers from a growing trust deficit among users. The obsession to create the most powerful advertising tool to achieve ambitious financial goals will end up costing the world's most powerful social network a lot.

In reality, other platforms don't do much better in terms of invading the private sphere. And those are (still) going unnoticed by the public.

Once burned, twice shy

We are not victims of these platforms. We are even guilty. Consuming services for free - social networks, messaging, communication tools - necessarily has a cost. And that cost is us, our data, through which we open wide the lair of our intimacy, we reveal who we are and allow malicious forces to manipulate us.

Choosing an app other than whatsapp, if it is free, will not protect us.

To remain in control of your life, of your choices, you must agree to pay for services that guarantee privacy. This is the key to staying in control of technology.

Picture by Tracy Le Blanc

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