Selling Your Personal Data

Not long ago, I wrote an article about virtual kidnapping and how to avoid it. In that post, I talked about making your Facebook and Instagram profiles “Private,” so random strangers cannot look at all of your personal information (family members, where you are, what you like/dislike, political views, etc.). I did, however, not speak about the overarching reason why I find this so important. Let’s start with this…your personal data should be yours. Yes, it should be. Even though you’re voluntarily giving Facebook or Instagram your information, which you agree to do in the Terms of Agreement, this monopoly of Facebook and other analytics companies (e.g. Cambridge Analytica), are able to build full profiles on you. These profiles stretch way beyond your date of birth, preferred pronouns, or a few pictures.

These companies create comprehensive data points about you that relate to your likes and dislike, and connects you to your fellow humans. Think of it this way - you are represented by a node (a small dot on a large piece of paper). You like basketball. I like basketball. An edge (or line) connects the two of us together due to our shared interest of basketball. You can see in the sample below that the nodes are denoted by Twitter accounts; the edges by retweets. Now this is a very minor example, but when we blow this up to a large scale and add millions of people, we start to see patterns arise. Through these patterns, companies can then create algorithms to target certain groups of people. Here is a quick example for you - this graph below, created with a piece of software called Graphistry, was created by scraping (gathering) Twitter tweets over a specific point in time. What this is directly referencing is the #FalseFlag narrative that surrounded the Christchurch Mosque shooting. This graph was compiled by @JessBots on twitter. It's a brilliant account that I highly recommend.

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Have you ever thought, I really should purchase ‘x’, or I want to buy ‘y’, then the next day you see an advertisement specifically for that product? Isn’t it creepy? It’s creepy enough when you search for something via Google, then that product starts showing up in your Amazon suggestions, but when you have mere thoughts of something, then that product starts showing up, it becomes incredibly disturbing. What causes this? As far as I know, it’s not Alexa or Siri listening to you, although I cannot guarantee that. It’s actually because these algorithms are so good, that they predict human thought and behavior. Now this is not something that the majority of the populous can wrap their mind around - the fact that a machine can predict our behavior, but I know for a fact that it is happening.

It’s easy to see how it’s happening as well - everything we’re posting or saying online is being queried and added to a giant database that is connecting each and every one of us. Companies are easily able to do this with their Terms of Service. For example, let’s look at Instagram’s Data Policy on what kind of information they collect:

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The amount of information that you are allowing them to collect is astronomical. The other issue, Instagram is owned by Facebook. That's even more data-points in one spots, but as Facebook sells your information to companies like Cambridge Analytica (CA), we see these data points get connected evermore. A New York Professor, David Carroll, filed a legal claim against CA last year, requesting all of the information they had on him. They did not comply, so Carroll is left in the dark. If CA had nothing to hide, whey not turn over the material.

We've all heard of Cambridge Analytica by now, the company that filed bankruptcy to supposedly duck from having to turn over all of their information to authorities. CA helped provide data for the Trump campaign in 2016. This is simply a fact, not some type of political statement. They also assisted with both Obama campaigns.

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During the 2016 Presidential Election, Trump's digital media director, Brad Parscale, launched an online campaign which was budgeted at $100 million. In the end, he spent just over $12 million, while the Clinton camp spent less than $4 million, and most of those were on Politico and the NY Times. With this information, it’s easier to see why he won. They used microtargeting to target small, specific groups of people with the "Lock Her Up" campaign, “Build The Wall” (and “Mexico is going to pay for it”) which was built on the premise that there are more illegal immigrants flooding the border than ever before, which is false, and the “Muslim Ban,” claiming all Muslims are terrorists. It also was so viral that even the right wing majority leader at the time, Donald Trump, started using it in speeches.

Parscale was named as the digital media director for Trump's 2020 bid as of February 27, 2018, and he has supposedly already stashed away $7 million for the reelection.


That all being said, here is what I think we have in store. As we share more and more information online, we are giving the rich and powerful, the top 1% of the top 1%, more ways to target us. Again, if this doesn’t bother you, then more power to you (or less in the grand scheme of things). I just think that elections shouldn’t be determined by what people share on social media. They shouldn’t be determined on smear campaigns that target ads at the disenfranchised and uninformed.

I truly believe that if the Democrats want to pull a 2020 victory, they are going to have to go toe-to-toe with Trump, not just in their digital campaign but in debates as well. With so many candidates in the field for the left, they need to find one that can actually take on Trump, and not get run over by his belligerent behavior. It won’t be Pete Buttigieg, and definitely won’t be the slowly-going-insane Joe Biden.

I know I’ve completely deviated from “your private information,” however, this private information is being used against yourself and your fellow American’s in, what is equivalent to, rigged elections.

We need to be cognoscente about what we put on our social media profiles. Be weary of advertisements and don’t take everything for fact. Always, always assume that what you’re looking at is actually “fake news.” Not the kind that twists stories to fit a narrative or bias (Fox News, MSNBC, etc.), but the legitimate kind of fake news - the news that is actually not true at all.

Moving forward, all we can do is take back the data that is rightfully ours. I deleted my Facebook in early 2019, and I haven’t looked back. For about a week, I missed being able to check it, but overall, it has separated me from the drama that so easily runs rampant on Facebook. I enjoy Twitter for the connections in my industry and hobbies, and I love Instagram for being able to see other people’s photos (family pictures, friends, etc). I do, however, keep my Instagram on the Private setting.

It’s no longer a matter of if big-tech is selling your information, it’s just how. What can you do? Keep your information private. Don’t put anything on the internet that you wouldn’t be comfortable with the entire world knowing, including your parents & grandparents. Please, pretty please, for the sake of your children - make your profiles private. Don’t give these companies any more of your private information. Be weary about what you put online. It has a legitimate impact on this country and your future.

Avoiding Virtual Kidnapping

Just the title, Virtual Kidnapping, sounds scary enough. There's a good reason for that: it is. Let me provide a quick caveat - kidnapping does happen, obviously; however, this is different than that and is purely extortion.

Virtual Kidnapping is the process when scammers call you on your phone, generally using number spoofing. This will create the appearance that the number you are being called from it local. It will make both the area code and prefix look local, and with most cell phones, under the phone number, it will say the location (e.g. Portland, Oregon). However, once you answer that call, everything changes drastically. Occasionally, this call will be from an “Unknown” phone number.

The scammers will contact you and explain that your child has been kidnapped. They will then demand a ransom for their "safe return” or “(they) will (insert horrific event here).“ Scammers have gone as far as to have the voice of a young boy or girl screaming in the background, making it feel even more real. This is exacerbated when you have a daughter/son, and it is a voice that sounds familiar. Of course, when you first hear that your loved one is kidnapped, any voice could sound like your child’s. It’s part of the brain’s response. There have been two families who have fallen victim here in my home state of Oregon, but down around the US/Mexico border, the numbers skyrocket. Why? Cartels. They are actually paying people to extort victims out of thousands and thousands of dollars.

Before we dive into how this happens, let me explain that this is all a hoax. It is not true, and it's simply extortion.

So, the important question: how does this happen?

Honestly, the first issue...is you. I know this sounds silly, rude, inaccurate, and victim blaming, but stick with me for a second. How does someone know you have a child; moreover, how do they know if your child is a boy or girl? FACEBOOK. Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. First, if you don't have a private Facebook profile, you should. This means someone cannot see your Personal Information or posts. They can, however, see your Profile Picture and Name. This means that even if you have a private profile, but you Profile Picture has your child in it, a scammer knows that you have a child. Even worse, if it's public, they can see where you are, and when you're most likely to be away from your child. This primarily applies to parents with children that are not yet of legal age.

But what if your child is over 18-years-old, possibly in college or moved away? Here's where it gets tricky, and this is where the children need to be on-board with the private profile aspect as well. Think about something really quick - if you saw 25 private Facebook profiles, meaning you can just see the person's name and profile picture, and I asked you if the person in question was a college student or moved out from their parents, or if they were not, I bet you'd score over 50%. Most would probably be closer to 75%. That's what these scammers are primarily doing. They are finding college kids. God forbid those kids have public profiles, which sometime even has their Family Information (Father, Mother, Siblings, etc.), proves to a scammer that they're in college, maybe even what sorority, fraternity, or club they're involved in. From there, it's as simple as finding a phone number, which isn't as hard as you think. Google your own name, and see if you can find your own phone number. Now let's pray that the college kid's profile is private. This makes it more difficult, but definitely not impossible. Now that you've put your own name into Google, try your children's name. See if you can find your phone number simply by putting their name in the search bar. If you can't, you're in luck. You're also the exception to the rule.

My recommendation is to make all of your social media profiles private, especially anything with lots of personal data and/or photos. The two that stand out to me are Facebook and Instagram (coincidentally enough, owned by Facebook).

I will both link to articles about how to make your Facebook and Instagram private, but I will also go through it step-by-step. As I deleted my Facebook early in 2019, I can't verify that this method works. If it doesn't, please email me immediately.

Facebook:

1. Click the downward facing arrow in the top-right corner.

2. Navigate to Settings

3. Click Privacy on the left toolbar

This is where you can configure everything. At the very least, change "Who can see my stuff" to "Friends".

Instagram:

1. Go to your profile (the little person avatar in the bottom-right corner)

2. Click the three, stacked horizontal lines in the top-right corner

3. At the bottom of the sidebar that slides out, you'll see a gear icon with "Settings" next to it. Click on "Settings".

4. Click Privacy

5. Click Account Privacy (about halfway down)

6. Toggle switch to Private


The FBI issued the following tips on what you can look for if you become a victim of this scam:

  • Calls (along the border) are usually made from an outside area code

  • The incident may involve multiple phone calls

  • Calls do not come from the kidnapped victim’s phone

  • Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone

  • Callers prevent you from calling or locating the “kidnapped” victim

  • Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service

If you receive a phone call from someone who demands payment of a ransom for a kidnapped victim, the following should be considered:

  • Stay calm.

  • Try to slow the situation down.

  • Avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call.

  • Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”

  • Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cell phone.

  • Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak, and ask questions only they would know.

  • If they don’t let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they drive, if applicable.

  • While staying on the line with alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged kidnap victim from another phone.

  • Attempt to text, or contact the victim via social media.

  • Attempt to physically locate the victim.

  • To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.

  • Don’t directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady.


Yes, I understand how scary this could be for a parent, but if you still are questioning whether or not having a private profile is important, I highly recommend reading THE CHAIN by Adrian McKinty. It takes the premise of virtual kidnapping to a new level. It's a great fiction thriller, and hopefully it will shed more light on this issue.

Instagram Attempting Fentanyl Crackdown

Did you know that one of the most common way drug dealers find new clients nowadays is through social media? Facebook and Instagram aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, Instagram has still been very lax in cracking down on drug-related posts.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, along with his company recently began the crackdown on these opioid-related posts. Instagram, who is also owned by Facebook, has been one of the largest purveyors of illegal substances. Zuckerberg (and Facebook proper), have been recently notorious for saying they will do something about problems or issues, apologizing, but NOT taking responsibility, then doing nothing.

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Let’s take a step back a moment to talk about the opioid crisis, and why the fact that Facebook is doing little to nothing about it, is a gigantic issue:

Overdose deaths due to substance abuse has continued to increase. If we go back less than 10 years, to 2010, there were 21,089 deaths across the nation. It doubled to 42,249 in 2016. Now, after 2017, which saw numbers reach over 70,000 fatalities according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we could be looking at numbers nearing 80,000 for 2018.

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A large amount of this credit has to be put on Fentanyl, where the deaths rates in only 2013 were around 3,000 overdose deaths, now hover around 28,000.

Before we dive in to how illicit substances, especially Fentanyl, have become widely sold over social networking sites, especially that of Instagram, what is Fentanyl and where did it come from?

2mg of Fentanyl, a lethal dose

2mg of Fentanyl, a lethal dose

Fentanyl, to explain it as straightforward as possible, is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Its primary use was in pain management, for people with severe pain like cancer patients. Due to its short-term high and euphoric brain reaction causation, the drug has been, more and more often, cut with heroin. Dealers will frequently add Fentanyl to heroin, increasing its potency, while saving money on the heroin, instead opting for the cheaper, more intense Fentanyl. Taking less than 5 minutes to reach your blood stream and your brain, the euphoria is almost instantaneous. And due to its quick half-life, the end-users are left desiring more. Plus, when cut with heroin, it combines the two drugs to produce a brand new high. The issue that these victims of overdose are encountering is that they are shooting heroin that contains more Fentanyl than either their body can handle or more than any body can handle. It is said that 2mg of Fentanyl is a lethal dose. It is also the way Prince died, same with Tom Petty’s death, as well as the death of Mac Miller. Should I go on?

So there’s Fentanyl - extremely dangerous and deadly. Now let’s move on to the main idea behind this post: What Instagram is, or isn’t, doing.

Instagram FINALLY decided to start removing/blocking some posts containing specific hashtags. There was, no joke, the hashtag #XanaxForSale floating around Instagram. Sellers weren’t even trying to be discrete. As this crackdown happened, dealers just shifted their hashtags oh-so slightly to those that were unblocked. It became #XanaxLife and #Oxycontins. Again, creative, right? Not really. But they didn’t need to be creative! It was just that easy for them. It’s like posting an advertisement in the local newspaper for drugs, and rarely ever getting caught.

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When we analyze Instagram, and especially Facebook’s, recent crackdown of speech and rhetoric, it was a huge surprise to see that they didn’t take the time to enforce their drug hashtags. Although I believe that part of the poor timing is due to the face that Facebook has been pretty swamped with Congressional Hearings regarding Russia placing advertising on the webpages to influence elections, they have a large enough company that it shouldn’t make a difference. When you think about it though, this issue that over 70,000 people are overdosing on drugs each year, should be of paramount importance to Facebook and Instagram. Are you listening, Zuckerberg?!?!

The majority, 80% worth, of the United State’s Fentanyl is currently be routed from Mexico through San Diego, California before dispersing throughout the U.S., thanks to the Sinaloa Cartel. Another big push is through Texas, although San Diego has been universally the popular route.

From San Diego, CA, the drug is in the perfect location. At the base of Interstate-5, which runs from Chula Vista, which sits right at the US-Mexico border, and runs through San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento (and only a short jump to the bay-area), Salem, Portland, Tacoma, Olympia, Seattle, and onward to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Traffickers can also take Interstate-10 to El Paso, TX, then before long, you reach Eastern Texas. Texas is an ideal location for drugs, with the perfect highways going north to Chicago, or northeast to the Baltimore, New York, Boston, Washington DC areas, or that can simply stay east, making their way to Atlanta and Florida, and ultimately, the notorious I-95. This goes for weapons as well, as they hit the I-95, also denoted the “Iron Pipeline” by the ATF, and the connecting highways. From there, they hit all of the metropolitan cities on the east coast where they are used to kill gang members, children, innocent bystanders, and police. The Iron Pipeline southern-most point is Miami, then runs directly up the east coast, hitting Washington DC, Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, and again, all the way through the northern-most state, Maine, and into Canada. The cartel, or drug runners, have also been branching off in southern New York, and taking I-87 through Albany, NY up to Canada where they reach Montreal. From there, it’s a short trip west to Ottawa or east to Montreal City.

I think I’ve made my point.

Interstate-87 in northern Vermont, before crossing into Canada

Interstate-87 in northern Vermont, before crossing into Canada

So the important question - how to we deal with this drug problem?

I think we can all agree that the War on Drugs of the Nixon-era didn’t work, right? Even though Nixon said, in a press conference, that drugs are "public enemy number one", he is partially right, but as a fix, the War on Drugs was a complete disaster. First, it quadrupled the prison population. I always find it interesting when people who agreed with the War on Drugs are upset when a violent offender gets released from prison on bail within 24 hours. It’s because the prisons are full of non-violent offenders who are serving lengthy or even life sentences. And these prisons weren’t just full of every age and race, it was and is disproportionally comprised of minorities. It became a prisons-for-profit that cost taxpayers close to a trillion dollars.

“Well, what about the violence of the drug trade?” Good question! Yes, drug trafficking is inherently violent. Why? It’s drug prohibition. People were quite violent during the alcohol prohibition. Let’s take a different legal drug…nicotine. Have you seen nicotine CEO’s shooting each other in the streets? No, you have not.

I think there is a good reason that makes sense to me. The CEO of Marlboro, Clifford B. Fleet, is an incredibly rich, white male and his product is legal. And don’t for a second think I’m saying that the head boss of the Sinaloa Cartel isn’t rich, but he isn’t white, and he deals with illegal drugs.. Same with the majority of those arrested in the War on Drugs. As the amazing fiction author Don Winslow put it, “The War on Drugs has largely been a war on people of color.” If (some of) these drugs were legalized, it would push the cartel back into Mexico.

I can hear it already. “But then it will flood the streets and users won’t try to stop?” Yeah, maybe, but they aren’t trying to stop now. Take Portugal for instance. In the late 1990s, the country was plagued by addiction, the HIV crisis was soaring, and the prisons were packed. Sound familiar? Well, the made some changes. They decriminalized it. Now keep in mind, decriminalization is not legalization. Drug offenders may still be penalized, but the idea is to redirect enforcement resources and prevent flooding prisons with non-violent offenders. Drugs are still illegal there, but anyone carrying less than 10 days’ worth of illicit substances will have their supply confiscated. They get an assessment with a social worker, psychologist, and lawyer. Their consequences usually range from a few days’ worth of community service to a ban on visiting venues in which the person is known to purchase or obtain or use drugs. Even high-risk patients can receive an invitation to undergo treatment. Rehab is voluntary in all but exceptional situations.

Portugal’s HIV rates among intravenous drug users have dropped from 1,482 in 2000 to only 40 in 2014. They have seen cocaine use per capita approximately one-tenth of Spains and only one-fifth that of France. According to European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD):

Maybe if we at least attempted to adopt something similar, we may see some changes.

Another factor in this so-called new “War on Drugs” is that African-Americans make substantially less than white males. According to The Economist, “…Much of this difference is due to mass incarceration.” Along with this, it is proven that there is a direct link between poverty and prison, which isn’t surprising. If I was flat broke, I might be tempted to steal food, or to deal drugs to make some money to feed myself or my family. Along with poverty comes either homelessness or living in some of the worst buildings, flophouses, and locations in the country.

In a fantastic, non-fiction book by Matthew Desmond titled Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, a brilliant line arises. “Every condition exists,” Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “simply because someone profits by its existence. This economic exploitation is crystallized in the slum.” Exploitation. Now, there’s a word that has been scrubbed out of the poverty debate.”

I believe that before we start beefing up border security, we need to take a better look at what’s happening in America. A wall won’t stop drug traffickers, and I’m assuming that’s it’s supposed use. Tunnels, airplanes, and boats. Need further evidence? These three links appeared in the first page of an internet search for “drug traffic mexico”:

A tunnel that ran from an abandoned KFC in California under the border into Mexico

A tunnel that ran from an abandoned KFC in California under the border into Mexico

A wall doesn’t stop tunnels, last I checked. Even if you agree with the wall, didn’t Trump say Mexico was going to pay for it? That was the crux of his election campaign. Now, he’s asking for $5 billion dollars to fund the wall, or he will shut down the government. Did I miss something? Regardless of where you sit on the political aisle, does this make sense to you? Even though I’m not sure why I’m surprised. When was the last time a President made a campaign promise and actually follow through with it? They’ll say whatever gets them elected.

Alright, I think I deviated far enough away from the drug problem. I just hope I made my point clear, that the people doing drugs should not be our enemy. They’re our fellow citizens, fellow human beings, and they deserve assistance. Step off of the pedestal for a few minutes to think about how difficult life would be addiction to a substance. Many people say that they don’t want their tax money to go to building homeless shelters or actually housing addicts for them to go through rehabilitation. If you’re one of these people, I sincerely am curious at your proposed solution? Leave them in the streets craving drugs, hustling for quarters, while we step over them on our way to where we want to go? Because then people complain that there are too many homeless on their streets.

Again, regardless of where your politics fall, in the final days of Obama’s Administration, we started to see a gravitation to a more sensible drug policy, which allows clemency for nonviolent offenders serving these incredibly long prison terms, a push to end mandatory minimum prison sentences, a less aggressive stance on the enforcing of the marijuana laws, which former Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried desperately to dismantle, and the abolition of prison privatization on the federal level.

As you can see, I am very passionate about this country’s current drug problem. People are overdosing everyday, in every town, and it’s about time we recognized this problem and attempted to come to some sort of resolution.

If poverty persists in America, it is not for lack of resources.
— Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
Facebook stock on 12/20/2018 at 10:41AM EST

Facebook stock on 12/20/2018 at 10:41AM EST

Facebook (and their company Instagram) are becoming a big issue when it comes to drug trafficking. With big money comes drugs. Either Facebook needs to crackdown on their drug trafficking posts on both companies, or we will only see this issue get worse. Also, their inability to help mitigate fake profiles is astounding, and this should definitely not be the case for a business of this size. Facebook, because of its size, should feel obligated to do so. This goes for Instagram as well. Unfortunately, for all of us who actually think this is problematic, Facebook is public traded. This means that it’s number one obligation is to its shareholders. That’s it - make money. On the bright side, with all of Facebooks shortcomings, especially as of late, we have start to see their stock begin to drop, as Facebook has been sharing more of our data with third-party companies. Just like how they gave user’s private Facebook messages to Netflix and Spotify, even though Mark Zuckerberg claims that it was done with user consent. We’ve been zucked again. I only pray that this will make them realize the disaster they have become. Their lack of transparency over their entire existence has been abysmal. Take for instance their Facebook iOS application updates. They just use the same template for every update description.

We've been zucked again!

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I’ve been contemplating deleting my Facebook for some time. I’m tired of my data being sold, their complete and utter lack of any kind of monitoring of enforcement. Add in their nonexistent transparency with what is being done with user data. they’re about to become the open-source Equifax. If things don’t change in the ensuing months, I will most likely be calling it quits ✌️.