By Bernard Purcell
Facebook has been hacking sensitive health data such as blood pressure and menstruation cycles – via popular smartphone apps – without users’ permission, The Wall Street Journal informed us last week.
It found eleven popular apps used by tens of millions of people worldwide were immediately sharing the most personal and intimate health information with Facebook without the users’ knowledge or consent.
One of the most downloaded heart-rate apps sent users’ heart rates to Facebook immediately. A popular period tracker sent Facebook data on users trying to become pregnant or tracking their periods.
Facebook defended the practice by saying “sharing information across apps on your iPhone or Android device is how mobile advertising works and is industry standard practice”.
We in the UK, mindful of how Facebook colluded with Cambridge Analytica to manipulate voters, can take Facebook’s non-binding assurances for what they are.
But in doing so we should be mindful of last week’s report from a cross-party group of MPs in the House of Commons which found digital gangsters like Facebook to have knowingly and intentionally violated data privacy and anti-monopoly competition law.
The committee was disturbed by possible Russian interference, ad targeting and access to user data that violated the privacy rights of users. It found Facebook puts profits ahead of users’ privacy, their security – and even the health of democracy.
It uses its market dominance to crush rivals while all the time obstructing outside scrutiny. Referring to it and its ilk as ‘digital gangsters’, that crush dissent or competition, it called on this country’s governments to force them to comply with a compulsory code of ethics over-seen by an independent regulator – funded by a levy on the companies – which would have powers to take legal action against companies breaching this code.
Meanwhile, in the High Court in London last week we learned that the EU referendum was won based on a corrupt campaign – as ruled by the Electoral Commission – the courts can’t void the result because the referendum was only “advisory”.
Had the referendum actually been legally binding the court could have quashed the result and even demand a re-run.
The High Court said the applicants – a class action group of British expatriates living in EU countries – should have brought the claim three months after the expenses had been lodged at the Electoral Commission – December 2016 – but before anyone knew, or could have known, about the illegalities and corruption.
Next time you use social media, remember the maxim that if you’re not paying for the service, you’re the commodity being sold to advertisers, and, even worse.