I have given several talks to my undergraduate students about the issues of data privacy that have stemmed from use of social network and other digital data signals. I tend to frame this issue under the premise that the algorithms which power social network content consumption are built using signal data from not just demographic information, but also behavioral use of the social networks, and that these together with data sources external to the social network (such as first-party data from corporate website, DMP and marketing automation systems) can be used to target them with ads.
The outrage comes when we layer on the notion of algorithms amplifying content with misinformation or worse, disinformation, that are also supported by massive targeted advertising of nepharious actors.
At the end of my second talk, a few of the students asked about tips on what to do and also where to get more information. So, here are some resources that might be interesting for you if you want to learn more about this issue, or if you are another academic that wants to build these topics into your digital marketing course.
My recommendations on things to do to keep your data more private
(note: some of these will not be possible to do all the time or without degrading some services you use)
- Block cookies on your devices (phone and computer).
- Regularly clear your browsing history / cache and purge any cookies that do exist still.
- Use incognito browsing.
- If you are using search on a website, try to clear your search history regularly.
- Before you install any apps to your phone, consider NOT allowing location access or microphone access.
- Turn off location services in your phone until you absolutely need them.
- Never allow location detection on a laptop of desktop device.
- Use a VPN.
- Turn off face recognition on any devices.
- When you publish images on your social networks consider if you want them public and captured into databases where your face may be added into AI platforms used by law enforcement. Public photos are also used by catfishers to create fake accounts and scam people. Generally, I recommending keeping as many private as possible and only accessible to friends. Be careful about allowing others to tag you in photos.
Filing claims regarding data privacy violations
Since there is no single US Data Privacy law, you have limited rights to address issues where you feel someone is collecting data on you without your permission. This also means you have limited abilities to force the organization to remove such data collected on you.
California citizens have rights under the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and can file a claim under CCPA.
The Virginia law does not go into effect until 2023.
If you are a resident of the EU, you have several legal options afforded under GDPR. The European Data Protection Board has published a list of national data protection authorities for member nations with links to their websites where complaints can be filed. Filing a law suit it probably both too costly and time consuming for the average consumer.
For Chinese citizens, the newly passed Personal Information Protection law (PIPL) will go into effect on November 1. This law follows the Data Security law which went into effect in September. Until the law goes into effect there does not appear to be specific information on how to file complaints. Other legal readings of the draft legislation indicate that the State CyberSpace Administration may accept public complaints and bring litigation on behalf of consumers.
Background and educational materials
In my classes, I use three different documentaries and various supplemental articles about the issues of data privacy but also some easy to understanding technical blogs about how cookies and pixels work.
- “The Great Hack” documentary on Netflix (if you don’t have an account you can sign up for a free 30-day trial)
- “The Social Dilemma” documentary on Netflix
- “Surveillance Capitalism” documentary on YouTube
Additionally, if you plan to go over issues about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and bias, you might add in “Coded Bias” to this list.
In discussing these topics in class, it’s important to try to move the political commentary to the background of the discussion. The topic itself is not partisan and it’s just that some of the examples, such as the situation with Cambridge Analytica, are important to discuss because of the historical relevance in prompting outrage, investigation and oversight.
Additional readings I use are:
Fisher, M., & Taub, A. (2019, Aug 13). With YouTube as guide, brazil moves far right: Foreign desk]. New York Times. (This is also discussed in a former episode of The Weekly show published by the NY Times)
How do websites track users? – Cookiebot.com
Instagram ad partner secretly sucked up and tracked millions of users’ locations and stories – TechCrunch
As Instagram Hides Likes, Young Users are Switching to Business Accounts, Exposing Personal Data
Facebook – A Second Update on Our Civil Rights Audit
If you are REALLY interested in this topic, consider listening to the podcast I posted: Podcast – NY Times | The Daily – “The End of Privacy as We Know it?” **going also into encryption is a bit into the weeds but if you have several weeks to explore this topic in class, there are more recent articles about Clearview AI and their
I’ll be updating this list soon with more specific citations on content moderation and recent actions from YouTube, Twitter, Tiktok, and Facebook. Importantly, at this point in the lecture, I discuss content moderation macro issues such as those connected to prior FTC fines that Facebook has received related to ad practices that enabled red lining, their prior moderation of certain kinds of content such as for 2nd Amendment activists and also protests, and recent decisions by Facebook’s Oversight Board. The question I ask the class is really “who should be the arbiter of truth?”
We don’t have the regulatory answer yet as many people debate this issue as future regulation is contemplated.