by Yana A. St. Clair, Esq.
And in the midst of Pandemic fear, look what snuck by us.
Just when we finally bid adieu to the topic of data privacy and the protection of our personal information, a recent development in the world of social media has inevitably sucked us right back in. As some of you may, or may not have heard, in December of everyone’s favorite year 2020, Instagram unveiled its new Terms of Service, and left many users rather disturbed. Now before you say, but I don’t use Instagram and never have, what should I care? Let me stop you dead in your tracks. You should care, very much so, and the reasons are terrifying.
The first reason you should be concerned is that Instagram is owned by Mark Zuckerberg, who also owns Facebook, as well as WhatsApp, among others. WhatsApp also recently unveiled its new Terms of Service, in an in-App notification, which you simply click on to dismiss, meaning accept, in which they essentially inform you that from now on anything you do on WhatsApp, will be shared with, or more so, within the full supervision of its parent company Facebook.
Now unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re likely aware that Zuckerberg has received lots of scrutiny in the last couple of years for his egregious sharing of the personal information of the users of his various Apps. So it appears in an attempt to show more transparency, these new terms of service have been provided to explain to his users just what is being used, sort of…
While you may, and should, read the Terms of Service for all of these platforms in detail for yourselves, here we will highlight some of the most disturbing ones. On an especially troubling related side note, I just noticed that when I just went on my own Instagram on my iPhone in order to tell our readers how to easily access this information which is within the Terms of Service section, when I attempted to click on either “Data Policy,” “Facebook Products” or “Privacy and Security Settings,” I was given an Error message, and was unable to access them. But that’s neither here nor there, right?
Regardless, fortunately I had already printed the documents, so back to our mission of informing you what you absolutely should be aware of. First and foremost, all the aforementioned Apps have access to your camera, as that’s one of their essential purposes, to take and post pictures. What you may however be unaware of, or ok with, is that they have access to your camera regardless of whether or not you’re using it, or the App.
Yes, that’s as bad as it sounds. What this means is that while your phone is sitting on your bedside table, whatever is within view of your camera, is within view, and being accessed by these platforms, unless you don’t grant them access to your camera, but then what’s the point, right?
Equally troublesome is the fact that whatever device you are using one of these Apps on, the Terms of Service, which must again be stressed, you agree to just by using the App, gives the parent company Facebook the right to access everything on that device.
Yes, EVERYTHING! So if you’re using it on your smartphone, that means not just all your photos, but all your information associated with use of your phone, such as GPS, IP address, ALL your other Apps such as bank services, Amazon account, all of your email and your text messages, and obviously your entire contact list. It also lets them know your usage time of all the aforementioned.
In the event that you’re using one of these Apps on your desktop, laptop, etc., it gives them access to ALL the files on your computer. Worried yet? You should be. But it gets worse.
Perhaps the most troubling one of all, falls under the section labeled: Network and Connections. The exact language of this paragraph pertaining to what is being collected reads: “Information such as the name of your mobile operator or ISP, language, time zone, mobile phone number, IP address, connection speed and, in some cases, information about other devices that are nearby or on your network, so we can do things like help you stream a video from your phone to your TV.”
Now putting aside the rather absurd explanation at the end to make you feel better, what this means is that while your phone is in your home, connected to your WiFi network, they have access to everything connected to that network, including your smart TV, your Alexa or Echo, and how about this, your home security cameras!!
And to leave you with one last thought, in case you’re still thinking to yourself, but I don’t use any of these Apps, this isn’t my problem. Well, anyone connected to your WiFi, like your niece who spent hours on her phone chatting with friends during the holidays, allowed them to gain access to all of your devices, and all the information stored on them, without you or her even knowing it. So, all in all, it’s like we’re all constantly being hacked, except we agree to it, sort of…
But don’t take my word for it, please. Look into those privacy settings and do your best to protect yourselves, but take it from me, it’s not as easy as it sounds. They make sure of that…
Disclosure: Please note that none of the information contained within the above column is to be considered legal advice.
Yana is an American attorney licensed to practice in all State and Federal courts of California. Yana holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science specializing in International Relations from UCLA, the Degree of Juris Doctor from Loyola Law School, and a Master of Business Administration Degree from Ashford University. Since the beginning of her undergraduate studies, Yana has been involved in various aspects of the field of Electrical Engineering, where she employs her business and legal knowledge to consulting and advising businesses and individuals on relevant topics of concern. Yana also serves as Editor for PACWorld magazine, having been with the publication since its inception. As an attorney, Yana specializes in criminal defense, where she devotes her talents and expertise to fighting for her clients’ rights and freedom.