When our connection to tech is a 2-way street

While our app technology can be helpful in finding things and keeping up with people, privacy concerns have led to legislation meant to help protect users’ privacy. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal
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From making dance videos for your friends to see on TikTok to retweeting funny memes to posting pictures of your dog on Instagram and watching food videos on Facebook, for most, social media is a part of most of our daily lives.

While there are a plethora of uses for social media, like it or not, there are a million ways they can track you. 

Did you know that Facebook can track your every move, even if you aren’t using the app? 

Though there are some perks, like Burger King’s “Whopper Detour” back in December 2018 — customers who used their Burger King app to order food while at a McDonald’s could get a Whopper for a penny — some are not as appealing.

TikTok was recently hit with a class-action lawsuit that claims the app transferred “vast quantities” of user data to China, despite the Chinese app’s assurances that no personal data is stored there. 

This may sound extremely troubling, seeing that not only is it currently one of the most popular apps in the world, but also has approximately 1 billion monthly active users, according to the app’s statistics. 

Even Google has been known to keep tabs on you, making note of your location when it sends you a daily weather update or when you merely open the maps app, according to a study conducted by the Associated Press.

“It’s scary to think about,” Saugus resident Valerie Thompson said. “I’m not one to use much social media, but my teenagers do, and they are too young to know any better, which is the scariest part.” 

While Thompson regularly monitors her children’s social media use, she said it’s hard to keep up with the ever-changing popularity of each app. 

“Every time they download a new app, they have to sign up with me, so that I know exactly what information they’re giving out,” she added. “But, that doesn’t mean they can’t go and change that later.” 

In fact, a study conducted by Pew Research Center found that 91% of adults either “agree” or “strongly agree” that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies, while 80% of social media users said they’re concerned about third parties, like advertisers or businesses, accessing the data they share on these sites.

These worries don’t even begin to cover the record number of data breaches that have been occurring, such as the 2019 Facebook breach where 540 million user records were exposed on Amazon cloud servers.

Another Pew study showed that a majority of Americans (64%) have personally experienced a major data breach, while nearly half (49%) of Americans believe that their personal information is less secure than it was just five years ago.

A new Califonia privacy law, which took effect at the beginning of the year, was designed to address these issues. The California Consumer Privacy Act gives consumers more control over the use of some of their personal information. 

“This is something that even as an attorney we’re always scared about,” Andrew M. Sevanian, an associate attorney at Poole Shaffery & Koegle, LLP, said referring to the use of consumer personal information through social media.

“When it comes to consumer protection, California is at the forefront, and that’s the apparent goal of this new law. However, it does appear the law CCPA is somewhat limited in scope, particularly in terms of the types of businesses that are currently covered by this new law,” added Sevanian, who recently wrote an article about the CCPA.

The CCPA applies to any for-profit business that does business in California and collects personal information, but has to meet one or more of the following criteria: 

  • Has an annual gross revenue in excess of $25 million
  • Buys, receives, sells or shares for commercial purposes the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households or devices annually
  • Receives 50% or more of its annual revenues from selling consumers’ personal information

Once the CCPA begins enforcement on July 1, it’ll be up to the courts to decide how the law is interpreted and enforced.

“When in doubt, look at the privacy policy on social media sites,” added Sevanian. 

The previous version, the California Online Privacy Protection Act, which took effect in July 2004, required any website or app that collects personal information to have a clearly visible privacy policy accessible to users. 

That privacy policy should explain what kinds of personal information is gathered from users, how the site or app uses that information and how they then keep it safe. 

Santa Clarita resident Robert Pullmer is well aware of the importance of reading a site’s privacy policy, but said he often struggles to understand them.

“Most policies are like reading a novel,” the 32-year-old said. “I get lost in their legal jargon and tend to give up after getting through a paragraph.”

Even so, Pullmer said he frequently checks his privacy settings, ensuring that he’s keeping up with any changes that may occur.

“The worst part is you can’t just say ‘no’ to it, you either have to agree with it or not use the website, which is infuriating,” he added. “So instead, I’ve learned to search for terms, like ‘personal information,’ and focus on those bits.”

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