Facebook goes ‘deep’ in getting to know you

The social networking giant’s Artificial Intelligence initiative is aimed at protecting user privacy – sometimes from those users themselves. But some experts warn that this type of “deep learning” could get a lot deeper than they like

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That is the same basic message from Rob Yoegel, vice president of marketing at Gaggle. “No one should be putting anything online that they wouldn't say to someone in person,” he said. “That's the issue at its core.

“The term digital footprint is used a lot, but it's really a digital tattoo. Parents are creating it at birth. The first time they post a photo of their newborn, their child at the park, their child holding an award-winning science fair project - this content will stay attached to them forever,” he said.

[ Six steps to better Facebook privacy management ]

And, of course Facebook collects information beyond actual posts.

Rob Yoegel, vice president of marketing, Gaggle

A study released earlier this month by researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK and Stanford University in California concluded that a computer algorithm studying Facebook likes can predict behavior and five key personality traits better than a person’s other Facebook friends and, in some cases, “even outperform the self-rated personality scores.”

So, the reality is that Facebook can collect a lot of information on users even if they never post a thing. That is one of the things that bother Rebecca Herold, CEO of The Privacy Professor. She said to Facebook’s credit, its user privacy options are, “significantly greater than other types of social media sites.

“However, there are still a lot of unknowns about how they share data with third parties,” she said, “and all the many types of tracking data they use not only to control what is shown in each user’s news feed, but also to determine what posts on a person’s timeline they will show to others.”

Herold said she has asked Facebook for details about its collection of user activities, metadata and other information the company says is not personal information.

“I’ve been told that they cannot tell me, because those questions relate to their intellectual property, not to privacy,” she said.

The bottom line, she said, is that, “AI is inherently privacy invasive.”

Rebecca Herold, CEO, The Privacy Professor

Yoegel agrees that it is invasive, but notes that so are a lot of other things we do without thinking about it, including giving a restaurant server our credit card, or giving a home address to a pizza delivery person.

“The bigger issue is how these companies present their terms and conditions to users,” he said, noting that those on all social networking sites “aren't easy to consume. They never have been. I'm sure very few people ever read them. You just scroll down a page and click ‘Accept.’

“And they're always getting changed, but email messages and site alerts about those changes are likely being ignored or dismissed,” he said.

Herold said she believes the intent of Facebook’s AI initiative is good. “But the possibilities for really bad things to happen are just as great as the possibilities for great good,” she said. As HAL (from the movie, “2001”) said, ‘I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.’

“And you know how that story ended.”

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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