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April 11, 2024

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Who are these people? Online false friends intrude upon our privacy

Not long ago, when I accessed a map app, a request popped up: If you would enable your Bluetooth, it would allow us to specify your location with greater accuracy.

The request seemed harmless enough, so I complied.

Wrong! I realized my mistake when I began receiving videos of well-endowed, skimpy-clad women swinging their hips suggestively in what appeared to be a home environment. A tantalizing tagline told me the scene was “within 100 meters from your current location” and that I could schedule a livestreaming session at a certain time.

I found this disturbing and quickly disabled Bluetooth.

Cyberspace can cough up unscrupulous ways indeed to capture our attention and intrude on our privacy.

A recent report in Nanfang Metropolis Daily focused on the nuisance of receiving online communication from users described as “persons you may know.”

The report went viral, with one netizen quipping in response, “I do know the person you suggest, but guess why we’re not friends.”

At issue is the practice of someone hacking into your address book, through your profiling or by other algorithm-based trickery, and then feeding you content purported to have been viewed by your “friends.”

Some netizens point to the futility of trying to escape from these so-called “friends” once a recommendation has been executed. These intrusions can occur even if you have followed standard procedures recommended by an app.

Unwanted feeds

In other words, you are easy prey for these unwanted feeds, and this exploitation of your attention can be sustained with such impunity that any hope of redress on your part may be complicated, if not entirely impossible.

Although there are any number of reasons why we might be interested in people who share a profession or other interests, there is an element of oversharing and over-connection present here. Chances are that we would prefer to be left alone and not accosted through the evangelical ability of some silicon chips.

Yes, the ubiquitous algorithm might know I have been connected to some individual, but it has no inkling why the association might no longer be a friendship.

As Shakespeare wrote in his play “As You Like It:”

Thy sting is not so sharp

As friend remembered not …

It comes as no surprise that in this age of online shenanigans that an unsuspecting user can be forced into a connection with someone without prior consent.

Just because a real estate agent cold-called me three years ago does not mean I want to share his posts or interact with his clients.

We have given up much of our privacy in cyberspace. When we enter a virtual reality that we initially celebrated as revolutionary, we can find ourselves manipulated. And because we have grown addicted to the Internet, it’s hard to break loose from intrusions.

As humans with a short life span on Earth, we have forgotten how to set aside digital gadgets and take time to breathe in all the wonders of our planet. At the very minimum, we still want to exercise some autonomy in the choice of our friends.

Debate about the surreptitious acquisition and sometimes criminal use of personal data has been going on for so many years without foolproof protection that it’s no wonder some people feel resigned to the abuse meted out.

However, it would be unjust to say we lack any protection.

There are regulations governing the protection of private data, stipulating that information may be gathered only in the event of absolute necessity, and should be deleted immediately after use. Some apps even have built-in mechanisms whereby users can prevent unauthorized forays into address books.

Unfortunately, the procedures involved are so complicated that they defeat ordinary users.

The obvious solution would be to put the onus squarely on app developers, warning them that they face hefty penalties for even the most trifling abuse of user data. But, will there always be ways to circumvent the best intentions?


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