Somebody is always watching

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Social Media has become one of the biggest communication tools the world has ever seen. The advancements in mobile phones and the internet has seen people all over the world embracing social media as a fast, efficient and economical communication tool with the ability of allowing global communication instantly.

It’s a known fact that the world is recovering from a recession that saw many manufacturers and brands across the world cut budgets and retrench staff members. If large manufacturers and brands felt the pinch of the recession, I am certain that the everyday man and woman also felt this pinch, if not felt it more.

My feeling is that the dominance of social media is owing to this, people need to communicate with each other for business and personal reasons but due to the tough financial times people have less money to spend but more communicating to do, hence it only makes sense to rely on cheaper communication mediums such as social media.

Social media have allowed us to voice what we are thinking and feeling to the entire world almost free of charge and if you are not the custodian or responsible for the data utilised during your social media experience then it is absolutely free. There are also a number of companies that have gained popularity by offering personalised email accounts with hordes of space absolutely free of charge. Some of these companies are leading search engine companies that monitor what you search and the frequency of those searches so as to give more accurate searches results as they understand you better and what you frequently searching for online.

One must now take a moment and think back to the famous notion of “nothing is for free” or as we say in South Africa, “nothing is for mahala”. So what do these social networking and email companies gain, advertising revenue. People spend hours on end on the internet browsing and searching various data, using social networks to relay information between two or more individuals. This information is relayed through mammoth super servers that have extensive storage capabilities. The information on these servers is said to know more about you than yourself as it knows your interests, your thoughts, your beliefs, your goals, your ambitions, your friends, your families, where you live, your mobile number(s), email address(s) etc. The main reason for this profiling is so that your browsing and social networking experience is bombarded with targeted ads that are deemed to be of interest to you based on your electronic profile.

The rationale behind this is simple, why market nappies to an adult and why market cigarettes to a person who doesn’t smoke. These systems are so intelligent that they deliver ads that are deemed to be of interest to you due to what you search for on search engines, post and or like on social networks etc.

Although this is of no significance to most people as it does not infringe on them directly, what if this information was in the hands of thee wrong people or in the hands of people who wish to utilise it for other purposes beside targeted advertisements.

I have expressed time and time again the caution that people should take when utilising social networks and other applications or software that ask for your personal details and or other personal information. Most providers collect and collate this information and sell it to 3rd parties without your permission. There is probably some fine print in the terms and conditions field that we never read, giving these providers permission to sell your information. So we cannot really blame them for this or embark on a lengthy law suit with one of these powerful companies and anyway it is not like we are involved in any clandestine or suspicious activities or affiliated with anyone who is, so since there’s nothing to hide, why should we worry.

29 year old Edward Snowden, now Ex-Employee of a defence contractor of the United States Government Booz Allen Hamilton has brought to light why we should be worried about this infringement. According to Snowden, his employment has allowed him access to large volumes or Top Secret documents that are held either by the NSA or other Intelligence Services. The NSA is mandated by the state to identify and possibly neutralise any threat against the National Security and the people of the United States by “looking” at specific electronically transmitted data and deducing whether there is a potential threat by a certain individual or group of individuals aimed at the United States of America and or its people.

Snowden alleges that the United States government had put in place an Project known as PRISM which dates back to 2007. The project allegedly retrieves personal and private data from the servers of companies such as Yahoo, AOL, Google, Facebook, Youtube, Skype and a few others to conduct surveillance on certain individuals in the name of National Security.

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This would mean that NSA employees would be able to look at all the electronic data you have transmitted over a number of years and hence evaluate whether you are a perceived and imminent threat to the United States. My reasoning is that there is only one way of doing this and this would be by creating a cyber profile of each and every individual who is or has been online and then attempting to see who they communicate with and what it is that they communicate. It would not be logical to think that they only seek a warrant to investigate your cyber profile once you blip on the radar because their work is more about neutralising an occurrence or individual before it happens as opposed to when it has or just about to happens.

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Obviously there are super systems that do all this profiling automatically and the systems will then point the Intelligence employee to probe further, analysing your profile and concluding whether you really are a risk. So if the system were to pick up that you are a sympathiser of a certain terrorist group possibly by the videos you watch or by the website you visit, you would then be subject to further analysis. The United States government has confirmed the existence of PRISM but was also very quick to highlight that it is legalised by statute. However I say that just because something is warranted by law does not make it right or justifiable, the law makers and other employees of the state work hand in hand to run this country, hence the legitimacy and transparency in passing such statutes is of concern to me.06.12.13_technewsrprt_img_stories_regina-timothy_Us-spying_4

Most of the companies implicated in Snowden’s allegations have denied such accusations stating that there is no agreement between themselves and the United States Government to allow direct access to their servers for the purposes of conducting surveillance.

Well my taking is that whether there are agreements or not, our social networking and surfing experiences have been compromised and one cannot but worry when contemplating that no matter what we do on our computers somebody out there may be watching and the greatest fear could be that a single “joke” or misunderstood thought or statement could turn you into an enemy of the state and allowing the United States Government to target you and possibly turn your life into a living hell.

[author ]Zondi is founder and social media strategist for youthzone24, a South African company focused on Youth Empowerment and Development. Twitter: @iamyouthzone[/author]

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