Social networks are under constant scrutiny by their users but also privacy watchdogs as companies add more sharing tools to to connect millions of people from over the world.
Facebook, created by Mark Zuckerberg, hit the headlines over the past week after its co-founder admitted the company had made “a bunch of mistakes”, agreeing terms with the FTC to make its networks more transparent and allow users to control their own levels of privacy.
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However, there are many that believe companies like Facebook and Google aren’t helping their users, insisting that they are mistreating them. Richard Stallman, creator of the GNU Project and founder of the Free Software Foundation, is one such person, believing that not only do Facebook and Google mistreat users on their social networks, they are putting some people in danger.
Speaking to Russia Today (RT), Stallman said that people shouldn’t use Facebook or Google+:
Those two mistreat their users. For instance, by requiring users to give their real names, that’s a policy that puts some people in danger. So you shouldn’t use them.
Stallman then talked about the additional practices that Facebook employed to track its users:
Facebook does many other bad things as well. Facebook does massive surveillance; if there is a ‘Like’ button on a page, Facebook knows who visited that page and it can get the IP address of the computer visiting the page, even if the person is not a Facebook user. So, you visited several pages that have ‘Like’ buttons and Facebook knows that you visited all of those even if it doesn’t really know who you are.
The GNU Project founder’s comments echo similar comments made by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange when he was interviewed by the same news agency whilst he was under house arrest, shortly after finding out he would be extradited to Sweden on charges of rape.
Assange called Facebook “the most appalling spy machine that has ever been created“, blasting Facebook over the information it holds on its users and accusing the company of making it available to US Intelligence:
Here we have the world’s most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations, their communications with each other, and their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US Intelligence.”
According to Assange, that monitoring doesn’t stop with Facebook. He believes the social network is joined by Google, Yahoo and other major US organisations that have “built in interfaces for US Intelligence”:
It’s not a matter of serving a subpoena, they have an interface they have developed for US Intelligence to use. Now, is the case that Facebook is run by US Intelligence? No, it’s not like that. It’s simply that US Intelligence is able to bring to bear legal and political pressure to them.
It’s costly for them to hand out individual records, one by one, so they have automated the process.
When asked about the recent storm over the Carrier IQ monitoring software on mobile phones, Richard Stallman said it was “no surprise” that companies were embedded the analytical tool on their devices, because they run non-free software:
“This is an example of malicious features in non-free software. Those mobile phones are being run by non-free software, so it’s no surprise that they have malicious features in them. The most commonly used non-free programs do.”
Stallman also shared his views on software development, the legitimacy of Anonymous hacks and the rise of pirate parties in Europe in the 11-minute video, which we have embedded below:
Circling back to social networking and the privacy implications involved, many still believe Facebook and Google are working hard to track users across the web, extracting their preferences and information for their own gain. Facebook has said moved to employ two dedicated members of staff to oversee its privacy practices on its website, also agreeing to have its practices audited by the FTC on regular intervals.
Stallman might not believe that Facebook is doing all it can to remain transparent but with the FTC on its back, it is a case of making sure it does to ensure it doesn’t land itself in more hot water. With upwards of 800 million people, Facebook’s growth shows no signs of slowing, suggesting many people simply don’t care about the information they share with third-parties.