2019 The Year of Facebook (Privacy)

Whilst Facebook goes through its own set of challenges from data, privacy, security, hacked elections and congressional outings. FB in Pakistan especially in the new year poses a very clear and present danger and strategic challenge to its users in the country and their in-ability to understand its basic constructs around privacy and security.

Many if not most folks using Facebook in the 1% neighborhoods of Pakistan, at large, do not secure their profiles. More times than none, FB is a huge vanity play, where Madam wined and dined last year, what her social butterfly calendar leaves no room for mere mortals is a must see for all.  This leads us to the less than secure privacy settings on the profile and most importantly images.

Which brings us to the brave new world of proximity, filter bubbles, wifi-signatures, Friends of Friends and other algorithms at play. In a social experiment done a little over one year I have come to the conclusion that this a very poorly thought out vanity play of not knowing and not securing your privacy settings.

Even if you are a tech noob, you must pay attention to this one of a kind, non-business driven post, because you are most certainly putting yourself, your information and your family’s social movements under the eye of people you have both met and most certainly will never meet.

So you have a rotating stock of security guards in your house, the average house has a trusted old cook/driver(substitute the person you rely on) and in the current day and age you at a base case give them your wifi password, if not verbally you enter in on their device. Which is a good thing to do, 100% giving access to free internet, to make calls, consume video, if they are so inclined learning new things is a social good that comes out of this activity of making sure they are also connected to their loved ones.

The lesser known fact is, if they don’t have your password in writing, your internet will now be shared by using their mobile phone within their social circle. It takes about a week of using the same internet connecting/wifi location and geo-location for FB to magically start showing you people you may know in your feed. Plust folks who have your mobile number saved or may have a text message from you. (Now imagine the circle of interaction, your delivery guy from last night, your last Careem or Uber text exchange, your call to reserving a restaurant etc etc)

You may be one of those who never looks, but the opposite is also true, your un-secure profile is now visible to every one using your common/shared internet as a base case or with text/phone interactions with your self. FB has denied this for ages, but let congress find the answer to that. Not you and me.

So all of a sudden all your December night parties and Qawwalis and your cute pictures with your BFF are the proud hyper local Vogue Magazine outside your house at the daily congregation of all your employees and their friends.

You may be ok with this and have an initial reaction, akin to calling me names saying, that your house hold help is like family. But this family has an extended family and now all of begum sahibas friends and in turn their friends and everyone who is tagged in any picture is on the front page of the neighborhood daily. So long as their vanity play is turned on and privacy is set to off.

Now look at both the social and scoio-economic impact of this, as much as you’d like to tell your self you are fair to your staff, imagine their plight when they see you sipping a cold one on the Amalfi Coast at the pool side. Clearly this stems all kinds of social , cultural and economic issues over time. There is a sense of dis-content, further inequality and alienation when the life style they see couldn’t be further from the truth they deal with daily.

This post is not to vilify domestic help in any way or marginalize those already dealt a hand by fate, that is not easy.

As part of turning on a free Wi-Fi for 200+ days the #1 traffic source after 9pm was Facebook. It took 3 days net, for every one to realize that there was free internet. Looking at traffic data, landing pages (traffic it self being encrypted) high end phone would rarely connect to the Wi-Fi and if they did they would stop using it, most of the connection was from sub 100$ devices. FB was king at 9pm and YouTube around 10pm. Total bandwidth being consumed was in the 100s of gig quotient(particularly high for Youtube).

Lets now look at the safety element on this, once people know who you are and really do want to target you and track you, your FB timeline/pictures are a good place to start. Given basic skills if they only continue to watch and you continue to post they will know your kitty party locations and spots, times of day, week of month and time of year type info, where you are , who you go with. If like most normal people your images are tagged, all they need to do is copy paste the name in to FB and then latch on to your friends etc. Done with enough compulsion over time, this a starting place for people to start stalking in the digital age.

FB has graduated from old colleagues and high school sweethearts from tracking you or checking out how well you are doing, there is an entire underbelly of folks who are tracking and trading in the business of FB driven personal content. In and around you and in and around where you live and go to work every day. The level of sophistication varies and will only continue to grow.

In most cases your vanity play is allowing them to do this, all you have to do is hit the privacy button and make your content available to only those in your network. That would be a first pass at making sure, the Culligan water delivery guy is not sending friend requests to begum sahiba on his next trip to your place.

Further there are entire WhatsApp groups that then trade the links to Madams pictures and parties, being shared from say your Gali Cluster to the next cluster one street down and one street across then across towns and nation wide. This is a serious cause for concern, you may be ok with people admiring your looks, but with your profile links also making it across, it now adds a devoted fan following larger than some celebrities. The groups are trading content via links as most do not use the app to go to the site, they use the browser. Plus they also use screen shots and pass these pictures around.

This not just true in the case of groups and group members trading in begum sahibas pictures or her friends, even though that is the prevalent category, there are categories of sahabs cars, his houses, his vacation spots his “daru” collection etc all being circulated in groups. Most groups have 0 conversation and only message exchanges. People use voice notes to comment on the pictures and the vacation spots or putting annotated voice prints adding their meta tags so other group members can quickly catch up. Whilst most of this may be sans a criminal intent(like more voyeuristic), but truly people do not realize the likely implications over time. You are putting your self, your family, connections and almost any one else that’s tagging you being exposed to an ecosystem completely outside your own comfort zone and you have no idea what it is.

Startup idea for this would be a FB health check and help to those who want to keep their mimosa outings to not be outed in places they didn’t even know existed. Sort of like a wealth manager but for online health check and privacy management.

 

“Who would you impress if the world was blind?” 
― Shannon L. Alder

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