Privacy is a very interesting notion in the social media age. Americans expect privacy from the government based on the 4th amendment, while openly sharing information on social media and commercial companies without much thought. For years Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and other companies have collected data on users behind the scenes and sold that data to advertisers. It solved how to monetize social media and helped keep founders of these companies in the three-comma club.
When Mark Zuckerberg found himself on Capitol Hill, explaining technology to members of Congress that don’t know technology; the depth of how much of our lives is being shared to advertisers and data firms moved beyond the casual blog post about privacy.
Mainstream media showcased this which prompted Facebook to make drastic changes before people starting leaving the social network site.
Other sites took notice and many pushed up the timeline to change their privacy policies. Some changes were coming in late May to reflect the General Data Protection Regulation, which increased privacy protections for European users. However, news of Facebook making changes forced other sites to reflect they too were protectors of user privacy.
This sudden concern for privacy by common citizens have made significant changes affecting law enforcement investigations through social media. One of the first changes Facebook made was removing the ability to search for profiles via phone numbers or email. Facebook claims that hackers used this feature to collect data for identity theft. While most likely true, law enforcement utilized this feature to find profiles for suspects and collect potential evidence. This change has created a small hiccup in social media investigations.
Facebook has also changed the amount of information collected from Facebook Messenger. The app has collected call and text history from a user’s personal phone device in order to improve app features. In the aftermath of the Congressional hearings, Facebook has limited the amount of data collected from user devices. The most significant change to law enforcement is the app will no longer collect date and timestamps from calls and text messages the app collects.
For law enforcement with undercover accounts, Facebook has began purging accounts the sites’ automated systems identifies as fake profiles. In April, Facebook claims it removed 583 million fake accounts. While the purge is aimed at accounts posting click bait material, the potential for deleting fake law enforcement accounts is possible, especially if the account is reported by another user.
The biggest concern for law enforcement is if this push will make more people consider their privacy. Facebook is making it easier to review a user’s privacy. The revelation of data being used by third parties has led some to delete their accounts, make them private
, and restrict past information. This will be the most difficult change to track, though it seems a significant number of users still don’t care about what they share on social media.
Social Media is continually evolving. Privacy is another chapter of social networks that will shape how the world uses social media. Staying on top of these changes is imperative for law enforcement.