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Can you legally monitor your employees’ online activities? Kinda

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Are they ways you are monitoring your employees online even legal? Did you know there are illegal methods? Yep.

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Edward Snowden’s infamous info leak in 2013 brought to light the scope of surveillance measures, raising questions about legality of monitoring tactics. However, the breach also opened up broader discussion on best practices for protecting sensitive data.

No company wants to end up with a data breach situation on their hands, but businesses need to be careful when implementing monitoring systems to prevent data loss.

Monitoring your employee’s activity online can be a crucial part of safeguarding proprietary data. However, many legal risks are present when implementing data loss prevention (DLP) methods.

DLP tools like keystroke logging, natural language processing, and network traffic monitoring are all subject to federal and state privacy laws. Before putting any DLP solutions in place, companies need to assess privacy impact and legal risks.

First, identify your monitoring needs. Different laws apply to tracking data in transit versus data at rest. Data in transit is any data moving through a network, like sending an email. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) requires consent for tracking any data in transit.

Data at rest is anything relatively immobile, like information stored in a database or archives. Collecting data at rest can fall under the Stored Communications Act (SCA), which typically prohibits unauthorized access or disclosure of electronic communications.

While the SCA does not usually prevent employers from accessing their own systems, monitoring things like Gmail accounts could get messy without proper authorization.

Who you’re tracking matters as well regarding consent and prior notification. If you’re just monitoring your own employees, you may run into disclosure issues. Some states, like Delaware and Connecticut, prohibit employee monitoring without prior notice.

The ECPA also generally prohibits tracking electronic communication, but exceptions are granted for legitimate business purposes so long as consent is obtained.

Monitoring third party communications can get tricky with wiretapping laws. In California and Illinois, all parties must be notified of any tracking. This can involve disclosures on email signatures from outbound employee emails, or a broad notification on the company’s site.

Implied consent comes from third parties continuing communication even with disclaimers present.

If you’re wanting to install DLP software on personal devices used for work, like a company cellphone, you could face a series of fines for not gaining authorization. Incorrect implementation may fall under spyware and computer crime laws.

With any DLP tools and data monitoring, notification and consent are crucial. When planning monitoring, first assess what your privacy needs are, then identify potential risks of implementing any tracking programs.

Define who, where, and why DLP software will apply, and make sure every employee understands the need for tracking. Include consent in employee onboarding, and keep employees updated with changes to your monitoring tactics.

Protecting your company’s data is important, but make sure you’re not unintentionally bending privacy laws with your data loss prevention methods. Regularly check up on your approaches to make sure everything is in compliance with monitoring laws.

Lindsay is an editor for The American Genius with a Communication Studies degree and English minor from Southwestern University. Lindsay is interested in social interactions across and through various media, particularly television, and will gladly hyper-analyze cartoons and comics with anyone, cats included.

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Why your Instagram follower counts might be jacked

(SOCIAL MEDIA) What’s going on with Instagram follower counts? It’s a v-day bug, of course!

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Yesterday, I did what I usually do on Instagram – peruse through my own profile because I enjoy my photos. Though my follower count is nothing to write home about, I was confused when I noticed I had lost about 10 followers and had mysteriously unfollowed about the same number of people.

To quote Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, “I was like, totally buggin’”. Turns out, bug was the operative prefix as a bug was cause for the issue, and many users were feeling the bite.

TechCrunch shared that Instagram confirmed the bug was the problem causing follower counts to change. The social media platform also said that the issue should be resolved by 9 a.m. PST on Valentine’s Day (because the only love worth celebrating is that of your follower count!)

At first, many users, myself included, assumed that the decrease in followers came from an attempt from Instagram to remove fake spam accounts. However, when we noticed that our following count had also gone down, that was when people took to Twitter to complain.

One user wrote, “so I just lost like 4K on Instagram and it unfollowed like 100 people within a matter of minutes? what’s going on [whining emoji] like I’m not mad about my follower count cause I’d rather have less spam followers and better engagement but like why is it unfollowing people?!”

Instagram also used Twitter as a way to explain the issue, which is where they shared that the problem should be fixed by Thursday morning. “We’re aware of an issue that is causing a change in account follower numbers for some people right now. We’re working to resolve this as quickly as possible,” the company tweeted on February 13. “Update: we’re expecting to have this issue resolved by 9 a.m. PST tomorrow. We understand this is frustrating, and our team is hard at work to get things back to normal.”

My follower/following count went back to normal a few hours after I noticed the issue, but it may take just a bit longer for all users to see the counts restored.

Share with us below if this issue threw off your social media game yesterday!

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Fallout from Facebook’s shady program spying on children

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook is barely even trying to be sneaky anymore, paying children to allow them to spy. Shameless.

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Facebook recently landed in hot (boiling) water when it was uncovered that Facebook has been paying teens to install a “research” VPN on their devices that would allow the tech giant to see all of the teen’s cellular and web usage, for about $20 worth of gift cards each month.

The participants were largely recruited into the program as a result of targeted Snapchat and Instragram ads, and offered participants additional incentives to refer friends into the program too.

The purpose of this Big Brother program was not to empower young minds with technological innovation, but to use all of this data to track Facebook’s competitors, keep track of emerging trends, and otherwise be creepin’ on the kids. The program reportedly went so far as to ask users to share screenshots of their Amazon order history pages.  

According to the report: “Facebook sidesteps the App Store and rewards teenagers and adults to download the Research app and give it root access to network traffic in what may be a violation of Apple policy so the social network can decrypt and analyze their phone activity.”

Oh, and if the privacy concerns of this whole program weren’t terrifying enough; it has been going on since 2016.

Almost immediately after the news broke, Apple banned Facebook’s Research VPN and shut down the iOs version of the Research app, before Facebook could suspend the program voluntarily. Apple also released a statement condemning the program and Facebook’s shady choice to hide it in the iOs Developer certificate rather than the App Store (where apps that collect personal data have been banned since last summer).

This entire debacle highlights the murky borders of online consent when children and teens are involved. Not only are teens less likely to be aware of the risks of sharing their data, but also often parental “consent” is not real. There’s no verification of parental consent; if a teen checks a box in an online form saying that they are their parent—the website is none the wiser. The same is true for many age verification processes.

If you are a real parent reading this and want to check to make sure that your teen’s not selling their personal data for pennies, you LifeHacker has instructions to help you identify whether or not they are in the program (and get them out of it!).

This entire debacle is a nice reminder that large tech companies may offer innovative services, high salaries to employees, and strange new ways of keeping in touch with people we’d probably forgotten by now, but the product is not the social networks they build.

The product that Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other giants are really interested in is data – we’ve been reporting that for over a decade now. Their treatment of people that may not even be able to consent to sharing their data highlights this narrow goal. If you a not a person, but rather a collection of market insights, what does your age matter? It’s just another variable for the algorithms (robots).

The upside of this entire debacle is that many parents previously unaware of this type of program are now talking to their children about this topic.

Further, this gives politicians more tangible evidence of why media companies like Facebook should never get a free pass for bad behavior.

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We’re skeptical of FB’s reason for killing the Moments app

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook is killing Moments. Turns out, most people don’t know it exists – here’s what we’ll all be missing.

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January was the longest year ever, amirite guys? Now all that’s over, we can finally say goodbye to toxic things like Whole 30 oversharers and, if we’re lucky, terrible products from tech giants.

I love writing about tech companies’ failed attempts at ~cool~ new products. Honestly, it’s become a personal hobby, or, dare I say, delight. Nothing warms my ice cold heart like seeing Google Glass, Google+, and the Facebook “Moments” app go up in flames.

*record screeches*

Wait, hold up… there was a Facebook Moments app? What the heck is (or was) the Moments app?

In case if you didn’t know like most people, here’s what you need to know:

Moments was originally created in 2015 as a way for Facebook users to privately share photos outside of the standard Facebook platform. The app implemented machine learning and facial recognition technology to help group photos, and then “recommended” who to share the photos with based off who was in the picture.

Get off my lawn.

If there’s anything we learned in 2018, it’s that we can totally trust Facebook with very private and personal information!

And I know what you’re thinking: why would this crappier and creepier version of Google Photos be necessary? Spoiler alert: it’s not.

In a moment of temporary sanity, Facebook announced it’s shutting down Moments and the app in its entirety on February 25th, citing a notable lack of downloads.

Here’s the interesting bit, though: no other reasons were mentioned like security or privacy concerns, and they insisted it’s pulling the plug only because not enough people downloaded it.

Considering Facebook bullied hundreds of thousands of users into downloading the app, so much so that in 2016 it was #1 in the App Store for several days, do we really believe the “no user base” excuse?

What else is going on under the hood of Moments that isn’t being revealed?

Given the recent controversies surrounding Facebook’s lack of data transparency and unethical decision making in this realm of personal data, I have a hunch something else might be behind this sudden “no downloads” rhetoric.

Only time, and perhaps another amusing congressional hearing, will tell.

In the off chance you’re one of the seven people with photos on Moments, you’ve been forewarned, and make sure to delete all of your data from it in case if Zuck pulls another Cambridge Analytica.

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