Beyond the well-advised step of attempting to curtail one avenue of China’s spying attempts, the banning of TikTok on federal workers’ devices also brings to the fore what should be greater attempts to at least greatly reduce (un)social media in our lives.
On the spying front, China has long been linked to corporate espionage, surveillance technology and a host of other autocratic ills. Ottawa is looking into Chinese efforts to influence the past two federal elections, simply a starting point for longstanding interference. That TikTok is based in China, where it’s subject to laws forcing it to turn over information to the state, is reason enough to ban it, as others have done, including the US government.
As a social media platform, TikTok’s raison d’être is culling personal information in hopes of monetizing it – i.e. to steal your data, sell it and sell you stuff. The Chinese Communist Party angle makes a bad situation worse.
That’s not why Ottawa took action on TikTok, albeit in a minor way. In fact, there’s been precious little in the way of control exercised over social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter or other technology abusers such as Google.
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Still, at a time when governments are increasingly bent on taking away our privacy and other rights, we’re often our own worst enemies when it comes to exposing ourselves to the world, literally, in many cases.
People’s tendency to post the details of their lives on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites comes with a host of perils.
Even young people are starting to become aware of that. While social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, are popular for sharing photos and other aspects of people’s lives, many users are worried that their postings could have a lasting impact, one that goes beyond a permanent record of their pre-adult antics.
A form of “day-after remorse” seems to be evident these days. An increasing number of users say that they have removed or taken down a photo or other social media posting because they feared it could lead to repercussions with an employer.
But just because you delete something you’ve posted, that doesn’t mean it’s gone. Chances are it’s been captured by archiving sites and will live on, perhaps longer than you do.
Internet sites like Facebook exist to harvest information, sell it to advertisers and target you with personalized ads. Tracking is the norm, as is collecting as many details as possible of what each of us does online. There’s nothing neutral about most of it: this is not just a sociology study, though, of course, it’s that too.
Leaving aside the issue of why exactly people feel compelled to post the up-to-the-second minutia of their lives, there’s a danger of what you post being used against you.
There’s an obvious peril to posting about illicit acts – not uncommon, if not bright – but a less obvious risk comes with not-criminal-but-damning posts sought out by prospective employers. In fact, people going in for interviews are now sometimes asked for Facebook login names and passwords right on the spot so that the interviewers can poke around their online lives.
Already a dubious phenomenon, the ironically named social media sites have descended into little more than partisan flame wars, blatant marketing and outright propaganda.
Coupled with the undermining of privacy – embraced by governments not the least bit eager to protect their citizens – the sorry state of affairs should leave no one upset if they all suddenly went away tomorrow. Such would be a reason to rejoice, in fact.
There’s very little social about such sites, at least in the conventional human sense of the word. The occasional use is one thing – though the sites, along with the ubiquitous Google, are mining data, joined by the likes of the NSA – but there are many people, many of them young, who spend too much time connected and think too little of the consequences.
More than just too much information, poor judgment and bullying, such time spent online has societal implications.
A Statistics Canada survey, for instance, found that one-fifth of social media users reported that in the previous 12 months, they had lost sleep (19%), gotten less physical activity (22%), or had trouble concentrating on tasks or activities (18%) as a result of their social media use. Around one in eight users (12% to 14%) reported feeling anxious or depressed, frustrated or angry, or envious of the lives of others. Young people had slightly higher percentages in many of the categories.
The tech companies are developing increasingly sophisticated tools for gathering up large swathes of online data – the things you post and like on Facebook, for instance – in order to both predict your behaviour and to sway it. This goes beyond targeted advertising, which is itself somewhat problematic.
Even those who helped develop social media sites and software are warning of the perils of technology, particularly the tendency to addiction – intentionally programmed – and the loss of privacy. While such revelations are useful, they’re often followed by positing “solutions” that involve yet more technology, rather than actual solutions, such as laws forbidding data mining, collection of personal data and demanding rapid expiration of personal information, under penalty of civil and criminal charges.
That, however, is beyond the pale, as governments are the leading violators of your privacy.
At this point, expecting governments and tech conglomerates to fix the problems they’ve created by intent is like putting the Big Bad Wolf in charge of building houses for the Three Little Pigs. The proposed “remedies” for the ills of social media – taking spa day breaks from your smartphone to counter addiction or installing additional apps to tweak the phones security – are really just defences of the status quo.
There are plenty of people looking to use and abuse your personal information, in both the public and private sectors. There’s no need to make it any easier for them. That goes far beyond the troubling use of TikTok as a tool for spying.