The Future

Deleting Facebook? You’d better delete these accounts too

Facebook isn’t the only one handling your data like this.
The Future

Deleting Facebook? You’d better delete these accounts too

Facebook isn’t the only one handling your data like this.

Data negligence isn’t a Facebook problem; it’s an internet problem. While Facebook shouldn’t escape scrutiny for allowing Cambridge Analytica researchers to scalp the data of more than 50 million people, its terms of service are remarkably similar to the ones used by countless other popular apps, sites, and services used by millions more people. From Twitter, to Amazon, to Apple and beyond, apps give themselves permission to collect data and pass it on to data brokers, marketers, affiliates, and whoever else they see fit.

Most justify this process by claiming that data may be given to “third parties,” and data permissions may be alloted to those who qualify as “third-party service providers.” Ostensibly, a third-party service provider is someone or something outside of the company that provides a service of some sort to that company. This could be anything from product delivery, to marketing, to customer analytics and beyond. It has no actual definition, and thus no real meaning. But selling data that can be used to build a profile of any given user to figure out how to market to them is a significant business for most platforms, especially any that are “free” to use.

Google, the world’s largest advertising platform that also happens to know everything you’ve ever searched for online and everyone you’ve ever emailed, admits it “provide[s] personal information to our affiliates or other trusted businesses or persons to process it for us, based on our instructions and in compliance with our Privacy Policy and any other appropriate confidentiality and security measures,” which is one of those statements that somehow manages to use words to say absolutely nothing. If Google thinks you could have possibly broken its Terms of Service, or are considered a threat to the “safety of Google” (whatever that means), the company reserves the right to “share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google.”

Twitter states in its privacy policy that “other users may share or disclose information about you” to third-party services (which is the sort of vague semi-legit sounding buzzword that could mean literally anything) and affiliates. “If you’ve shared information, like Direct Messages or protected Tweets, with another user who accesses Twitter through a third-party service, keep in mind that the information may be shared with the third-party service,” the statement reads. Twitter will also share your information with anyone and anything it deems a “service provider” (oh-so-loosely defined as entities that “perform functions and provide services”). But don’t worry, they totally won’t misuse your data (a la Cambridge Analytica) because Twitter made them pinky swear to “use your private personal data only on our behalf and pursuant to our instructions,” and that’s obviously enough to keep them honest.

Similarly, Amazon’s privacy policy reveals that Bezos & Co. share your information with basically anyone and everyone tangentially involved with the company’s operations. It admits it gives your personal information to “Affiliated Businesses We Do Not Control;” third-party service providers used for “fulfilling orders, delivering packages, sending postal mail and e-mail, removing repetitive information from customer lists, analyzing data, providing marketing assistance, providing search results and links (including paid listings and links), processing credit card payments, and providing customer service;” and random businesses Amazon is affiliated with for promotional purposes An Amazon spokesperson got in touch with The Outline to deliver the following statement:

“Amazon takes its customers’ privacy seriously. We never sell our customers’ personal information. We must share our customers’ personal information with service providers (a delivery service needs a customer's name and address to deliver a package) but service providers cannot use that data to create a marketing profile on Amazon users. Our privacy policy clearly states: ‘They have access to personal information needed to perform their functions, but may not use it for other purposes.’”

Apple admits it “may make certain personal information available to strategic partners that work with Apple to provide products and services, or that help Apple market to customers.” It claims that “personal information will only be shared by Apple to provide or improve our products, services and advertising,” but the reality is that essentially anything could fall under those broad and noticeably vague categories. Apple also apparently “shares personal information with companies who provide services such as information processing, extending credit, fulfilling customer orders, delivering products to you, managing and enhancing customer data, providing customer service, assessing your interest in our products and services, and conducting customer research or satisfaction surveys.” Like Twitter, Apple claims that “these companies are obligated to protect your information” without providing any proof that they actually are, or what happens when they don’t.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Basically every app, site, and service you have ever used (or will ever use) collects your personal data in one way or another. The vast majority will either sell or share your data with third-party services. From there, who knows where it’ll end up. It could easily bounce from third-party to third-party until it makes its way into the hands of someone like, say, a researcher backed by Steve Bannon and millions of dollars of Mercer money.

Nowadays signing up for a digital service means signing away your privacy rights. Yes, I accept the Terms and Conditions. Sure, why not give this app permission. Reading all of the privacy policies you encounter in a mere year would take 76 work days. And honestly, even if you did read each and every mind numbing word, what would it change? It’s not as if negotiation is a possibility.

Twitter knows you’re not going to stop tweeting just because of a vaguely-worded line about data collection. Amazon, Google, and Facebook know the same. So long as legal protections for consumers remain practically nonexistent — which is likely, given that lawmakers can’t seem keep up with even the most basic advances in tech — and data collection remains profitable, companies have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

This post has been updated with a statement from Amazon.

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