It’s a digital age conundrum — to click or not to click. This is backed by the human urge to often act against our own interest by compromising on online privacy. We need to feel secure, want instant gratification and the most alarming of all — overlook innocuous default settings on apps and sites, making everyone happy to share away. On Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, and a slew of apps, you could be king or queen by virtue of your clicks! Ruling over minions with surveys on knowledge, beauty, intellect and word power, you’ve lasciviously logged on and opened a Pandora’s box. They have made you Einstein, Elizabeth Taylor, or even Beyoncé for the day, depending on your proclivity to online surveys.
Yet, have they, really? With privacy settings not really private and data manipulation a given once you enter into the quagmire of Internet, those inane IQ tests, beauty surveys, glam surveys, etc. are all means to entrap the clueless user. Even the calls one makes and their duration are recorded if the FB app is downloaded.
Or as WhatsApp wisdom purports, “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer. You’re the product being sold.” Inadvertently, you are being used for a larger sinister goal. And you don’t even know it.
Take for instance engineer Prachi Sinha, 32, who clicks on any survey she finds, adds details of where she checked into, what she likes, even who she calls, etc. She then proceeds to share it. Minutes later, her friends are bombarded with invitations.
Shekhar Vijayan, a social media expert, explains the tightrope we are walking on, “Data manipulation has been going on for ages and this issue has come to light because it’s Facebook. The spate of accusations on Cambridge Analytica is gaining traction in the US because of the results it has manipulated in the US elections. It’s just the tip of the iceberg as more skeletons are expected to fall out of the closet. People need to realise that what we put online is going to be on the server, and can be hacked. Social media platforms that include the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram should have more stringent controls in terms of privacy. Co-founder of Whatsapp Brian Acton might have other reasons to join the delete bandwagon as he knows Facebook’s shares will go down if people boycott it, and Whatsapp user count goes up, which means more money... it’s cut-throat business at the end of the day. This #deletefacebook and #boycottfacebook movement is the digital candle light march and means nothing if larger issues are not resolved.”
Instant gratification is also a reason why people love to be interactive on social media. “By far the most influential study on instant gratification has been done at Stanford University by Dr Walter Mischel. In the experiment, children were given one marshmallow and told if they wait for 10 minutes without eating it, they will get two more. Most children could not wait and ate up the one they had in hand. The few children who resisted the urge of instant gratification were tracked 20 years later and they were much more successful in money, career, relationships and stability in personality. Social media promotes instant gratification, satisfying false egos through non-standardised IQ tests, beauty trends, etc. People who succumb to these false tests feed this urge and end up losing, in terms of personal and private data,” Dr Akshay Kumar, a psychologist explains.
According to a report in the Atlantic, when one accesses an app on Facebook, be it a personality quiz, a game, a horoscope, or a sports community, it presents you with an authorisation dialogue, where the specific data an app says it needs is displayed for user consideration. That could be anything — your name, friends list, email addresses, photos, direct messages, etc. And therein lies the danger.
C.T. Shankar, co-founder, Digital Marketing School says, “The first thing we have to do is to accept the reality that if you are digitally connected, your data is not secure anymore. For example you would have told a friend on email that you may come to visit him in Bengaluru, and the next thing you see, you’re getting ads of flight tickets from Hyderabad to Bengaluru. People think Facebook and Google are social media networks and search engines respectively, but they’re actually data companies that sell personal data. Data privacy needs to be abided by but the truth is nobody does it, and that’s how it is. There’s a website called Trendhunter, which analyses data and catches the trend that is just in its nascent stage.
They will sell this information before it actually becomes a trend, so that companies can make products accordingly. There are a lot of people who try very hard to keep their privacy, but whatever tricks they may use, they will be able to secure only a maximum of 30 per cent of their data.”
The larger issues at play is personal privacy, data being exploited. For instance if you click on destination Machu Picchu on a travel website, you’ll be thrilled to find a mail suggesting places to stay. We also know of fake followers and bots ruling the Internet. Nilu Yuleena Thapa, a Bengaluru-based blogger, Big Hair Loud Mouth (93,000 followers) feels, “It is a little risky and does cross my mind. When Facebook mentions that the data will be protected, there are certain applications which can be logged into by using Facebook and I would still have to enter data. My advice would be to always log into apps through your phone rather than random terminals, and devices.”
— With inputs from Pooja Prabbhan, Kavi Bhandari, Nikhita Gowra and Ruth Prarthana...