2106: Sharing Options
Title text: How about posts that are public, but every time a company accesses a bunch of them, the API makes their CEO’s account click 'like’ on one of them at random so you get a notification.
Cueball is floating, talking to a screen that looks like a smartphone with a virtual assistant. Ponytail and other characters also fly in the background. The screen is explaining his options for sharing information on social media, he can make it available only to those he selects, or he can make it available to everyone, including various high risk groups. The drawing may represent a Virtual Reality cyberspace. The comic might be set in the distant future, where VR will have become commonplace and be embraced by Cueball and his friends. This cyberspace may be the social network’s cyberspace where everyone interacts. The clouds could represent the cloud server where the data of the social network is stored. The virtual assistant seems to have a face and have very advanced AI, which can even be arrogant by assuming that it already knew the information about the “option in between”.
Many social media sites allow users to control who can see content (posts, pictures, etc.) that users share. Several high profile social media sites have sparked controversy by automatically widely sharing user data, unless the user restricts access. The settings for controlling the sharing of data are not always obvious to the user, or easy to use. Access may be limited to immediate friends, or be available to all users (public); some platforms allow intermediate levels of control. As most social media sites are free to use, the business model for these companies involves a mixture of selling advertising space on their website and selling data on its users. Targeted advertising takes data on users’ past behavior and things that they have liked, and uses this to predict what adverts they may be interested in or be most vulnerable to. Targeted adverts are more valuable to advertisers as they avoid paying to show adverts to individuals who are unlikely to be interested in their products; but can lead to users feeling that they are being spied on. While the terms and conditions for social media websites will include details of how data will be used, the length of these documents and legal terminology may deter users from reading them, meaning that they may be unaware that their data is being exploited in this way. Regulation has been slow to catch up with changing online trends; however, the European Union have recently introduced General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which aims to regulate how user data can be shared. GDPR was featured in comic 1998: GDPR.
Internet scammers use online information to manipulate people, often to commit fraud. They may acquire personal data using web crawlers to automatically scan social networks for personal information (particularly emails) to scam their owners. Those bots called web crawlers can get the information without scammers' manual browsing of the victims' profile. Those people who set their social network account as public (the 2nd option in the comic) are more likely victims of scammers since they can access their profiles without being the victim's friend or follower. Other examples of questionable uses for social media on xkcd include 300: Facebook. Randall is making a point that there ought to be some option between sharing posts only with your friends and making them completely public. The title text shows that he would specifically like to know when corporations read regular peoples' posts.
This also could be a stab at the sharing policies between Facebook and the just-announced end of Google+. Google+ allowed users to create multiple groups called 'circles'. Posts could then be shared by targeting specific circles. For example: "I'm in the hospital" could be shared with just the family circle, but the "I got a promotion" could be shared with the family circle, the co-workers circle, and the general public circle. Facebook provides an option to share with “friends of friends,” leaving the decision about how widely a post is shared not with the posts creator, but with the posts recipients. The comic is set in the future of VR, yet the fact that Internet companies like Facebook, Tencent and Twitter try hard to collect and sell user data won't change. This may suggests that Randall believe those companies will never reconsider their approach regarding user privacy.
- [Cueball floating in midair is communicating with a small floating screen that resembles a smartphone. Other people and clouds visible floating by in background.]
- Screen: Welcome to social media! When you put stuff here, you have two options: (1) You can make it available to a small set of 300 or so approved friends.
- [Cueball is still floating and talking with the smartphone. Other people and clouds visible floating by in background.]
- Screen: Or (2) you can share permanent copies of it all with billions of people, including internet scammers, random predatory companies, and hostile governments.
- [In a frameless panel, Cueball has stopped moving and is facing the screen]
- Cueball: Why would anyone pick option two?
- Screen: Two is the default.
- Cueball: Yikes.
- [Cueball is still floating and talking with the smartphone. Other people and clouds visible floating by in background. Cueball has his hand raised]
- Cueball: So those are the only two options? There’s nothing in between?
- Screen: I don’t understand. Like what?
- [Cueball continues floating and talking with the smartphone. Other people and clouds visible floating by in background.]
- Cueball: I mean...there are numbers between 300 and a billion.
- Screen: Huh? Name one.
- Screen: Pretty sure I would have heard of those.
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