Social media profiles are used to send targeted ads. What else can be done to us users with this data and how dangerous can it get?


Many people advocate for concealing your data as much as possible on social media. Hackers and data mining companies can create a virtual you based on your usage of social media. What else can our social media data be used for?

In: Technology

Look up China’s new system of rating people if you want to see the dangers. It’s a real dystopian nightmare. If you say stuff that’s critical of the state on social media, you lose points and that loses you privileges.

For pictures you post on social media, some formats allow people to scrape your location from them. Post one pic about “chilling at home with the fam” and BAM, your home address is out there for the world to see. Post a few more, and a dedicated stalker can put together a pretty accurate depiction of your day to day life.

And that’s just a few examples.

Not much can be done to a company’s profit that is not already done. But a lot can be done to your detriment.

Let’s say you get into a heated argument online and earned yourself a stalker who actively wants to hurt you. They can use your email address to harass you or sign up for online services with it. Your pictures have location data that they can use to find out where you live, work, shop etc.

They can check your friend list to learn about people you love and harass them, perhaps impersonating you in the process. They can check your post history, dig up inappropriate things you said before and send them to your boss.

Doing all of above involves next to zero technical skill. They may get into legal trouble but only after the damage is done.

Not just ads but targeted information. Two people with different beliefs and backgrounds perform the exact same google search can result in radically different search results. There is an example story of this happening in Egypt during the revolution, but more generally the implications are pretty grim.

Future employers will review your social media and all legally accessable information. For instance if you post a photo with a certain location or use a certain expression, a reviewer may look it up. “Oh, so you hang out at a biker bar that has confederate flags everywhere? “. Etc.

There was a story about the data figuring out the person was gay / lesbian and created pop ups or ads for gay cruises. The persons co-workers say this and he / she was outed.

The big privacy advocates, in my opinion, do way more harm than good. Look for a response to your question here that is actually both likely, significantly harmful, and that is actually a result of data collection by companies like Google and Facebook. I’m willing to bet there isn’t one.

People who get squeamish about being “tracked” often won’t think twice about using a spell checker, or entering their home address on an application for something. It makes no sense.

And meanwhile there is so much harm done by this nonsense quest to avoid minor and imaginary harms. When we take away the data, we end up with less powerful tools, in the midst of an AI revolution. The possible benefits to public health alone are enormous, but utterly hamstrung by an illogical fear that has barely any plausible or coherent worst case scenarios.

In summer 1940 the Nazis took over Amsterdam and gained access to the population registers. Unfortunately the Netherlands had written down the religious affiliation of their people which basically gave the Nazis all the addresses of jewish people in the country.

Now think of all the information a clever algorithm or a neural network can distill about you as a person from every post made and every like you gave or every product you bought.

With GPS and bluetooth being a thing we theoretically have a dense grid of relative position data of every smartphone in the world. It’s no harm done when McDonalds expects you to buy a BigMac in the next 15 minutes with a certainty of 85% and begins production. But it’s definetely harm done when a hostile power has access to that information and blackmails some engineer of the JPL and pushes him to sabotage a part of a rocket engine etc.