Social Media and Surveillance: How Do We Know if Our Information is Safe?

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Written by Mariana Robles

Many of us have probably seen those Whatsapp chains and Facebook posts about how our
smartphones are listening to us all the time. While they have an ounce of truth in them, they are
heavily misinformed. Our phones and laptops can understand what we say through programs
like ‘OK Google’, ‘Alexa’, and ‘Siri’. These programs are triggered by the user’s voice and
can provide answers and shortcuts. This does not mean that they are always listening to our
conversations and monitoring what we say, but they can understand certain commands. The
information that goes around about technology constantly spying on us is a lot, and most of
them are fallacies or just something people decided to make up and post on Facebook. So
let’s debunk some myths about social media and surveillance.


“You should cover your webcam so your computer can’t spy on you”

Right now, computer webcams are used almost every day by people around the world.
Whether they are in class, or at work, or catching up with friends, it is being used all the time.
Even before quarantine, I would hear my teachers at school telling people to cover their
cameras so their computers can’t record them. While hackers can use malware to access the
cameras, the device can’t do that on its own.


In 2014 the FBI ran a large cyber operation in which they arrested hackers in more than 12
countries. These hackers had access to photographs and records of keystrokes entered on a
user’s keyboard. This gave them the chance to steal passwords and activate the user’s camera.
And you know that trope in which the FBI hacks into your camera for surveillance? Well,
there might be evidence of that being true.

“Your phone is recording your conversations”

This phrase is by far the one I have heard the most. It is also the one I didn’t believe to be
true. When you use the default settings on your phone, a lot of the things you say can be
recorded. The recordings are not stolen or sold to another company, but if your phone is
hacked, the malware will probably have access to them. There is not a lot of concrete
evidence of this, but there are some ways to know if your phone is listening in on your
conversations:

  1. Go to the settings on your phone and check your default settings.
  2. You can visit https://adssettings.google.com/ to see what kind of information Google
    has about you and administrate it.
  3. Administrate the privacy settings on your phone and check for malware.
“Apps and websites sell your personal information and data”

A lot of the time, we permit websites and companies to sell our information without us
noticing. When we make an account on an app or sign up for a newsletter, we are always
given the option to read the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy of the site. Most of the
time we skip that part, but maybe it’s time we start reading that boring paragraph. In the
Terms and Conditions, we are told our rights and responsibilities using the site. This creates a
sort of contract between the user and the site. The Privacy Policy tells us how the website or
company processes, collects and uses the information and data of its customers. This is where
we unknowingly may be giving away the rights to our data and image. This is why most
companies deny selling the information of their users since we are giving them the rights to
do whatever they want with it.

What can we do moving forward to keep our data and personal information
safe?

● Check the default setting in our electronic devices
● Read the Terms and Conditions and the Privacy Policy
● Check our devices for malware or install an anti-virus software
● Make sure the site we are signing up for is safe
● Avoid sketchy or suspicious sites
● Double-check the settings and programs installed on our devices

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