Following fads

  • There may be a dark secret behind the #10YearChallenge on social media
- Johnson Shrestha

Jan 22, 2019-

If you’re active on any of the social media platforms these days, then you probably are familiar with the latest fad—the #10YearChallenge. This new social media challenge has gone viral in the span of a few days. The ‘challenge’ prompts users to post two photos of them—a current one and another from 10 years ago to show how they’ve changed. For some, it’s about showing off how gracefully they’ve aged while for others, it indicates their life changes. No matter what, people seem to be enthusiastically jumping on this bandwagon.

This is not the first time a social media challenge has gone on to trend across the world. A similar fad that spammed social media platforms about a year ago was the ‘Tide Pod’ challenge where teenagers were eating detergent and consequently, being rushed to the hospital. Even something comparatively harmless like the ‘Kiki’ challenge was reported to cause quite a few road accidents.

The recent ‘10 year’ challenge may not be as inane. After all, it’s only limited to posting one’s pictures. But many have deduced that it may not be as innocuous as it seems—there may be a more sinister motive behind this viral challenge. First suggested by tech writer Kate O’ Neil on the magazine Wired, this challenge may be part of Facebook’s strategy to mine data and train its facial recognition AI to improve age recognition.

The rebuttals for this argument suggested that Facebook already has all the photos of its users, even from more than just a decade ago in some cases. But to sort through all those photos can be too tedious, even for an AI algorithm. In addition, through the challenge, users are not only uploading their photos but of their pets, cars and children. It might have been easier for Facebook to create a meme that would catch on quickly and get users to upload their own pictures. A threshold of about 10 years is a good number and with the hashtag, the algorithm will have an easy time sorting through users’ photos.

There can be a number of reasons behind Facebook pushing this challenge—besides using it for facial recognition, the age recognition can also be easily used for targeted advertising. It will have an easier access to demographics, which can be used to target specific products to specific users. On first glance, this doesn’t seem very dangerous, as it only makes advertising more relevant. But advertisers are large corporations and we are feeding them more private information. This is an invasive policy. With this new data, advertisers can cleverly tailor specific types of ad campaigns according to individual preferences. So, when we buy something online through Facebook or just even click on a link, we can see similar ads on our Facebook walls over and over again.

Given how pervasive social media is, there seems to be very little we can do to limit this. We can quit Facebook and Instagram and deactivate Twitter, which may not be practical for many of us, but there is no way that we can ignore Google. We can’t seem to get away from big brother. According to TechCrunch in 2012, Google’s tracking code is on over 10 million websites, which has definitely increased significantly by now. Google has huge amounts of data on everything we have used its search engine for—from medical records to weird fetishes. There’s no estimating the full extent of what it has on us, but it is clear that Google is selling our data. Its business model is to monetise us, its users, and we’re paying to use its services with our very own identity.

Sure, the AI behind #10YearChallenge is only a theory after all, and Facebook has already stated that it has nothing to do with this fad. But given that Facebook just last year got into trouble for selling the data of 87 million users to Cambridge Analytica, it is difficult to believe the company. After that issue surfaced publicly and the Congressional hearing that followed, Facebook reviewed a lot of its policies to change its ways. But how many of us have read its ‘Terms of Agreement’ in full before accepting it?

We have been paying a hefty price for using these social media platforms. They have been using, or misusing, our privacy and identity. If you think you are not that important of a personality to care about this then it is time to rethink. Every app you download, every quiz you take on Facebook tries to access your information. The fact that just about every platform is trying to get your data shows how valuable it is. In the current world order, data means power and money, and we have to ask ourselves regularly who owns and controls our data.

It is time to re-evaluate how much information we should share. Are we ignoring the fact that we may not be users but products?

Of course, it is not practical to just delete your social media accounts overnight. There may not be any harm in following the latest trends either—you can be a part of whatever social media challenge you enjoy. But we need to be careful about what we create and share, who we grant access to, and what the potential implications are. Getting spammed with ads may not be bad, but it is important to reflect on how our personal data is being treated.

Published: 22-01-2019 07:53

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