Metadata Can Help People Be Secure
Everything in the future will be encrypted. You’ve read everything correctly. Today, chats are encrypted by messengers such as Signal, WhatsApp, Telegram, WeChat, and iMessenger. They are used by most of the world’s population.
Did you hear about the FBI data leak? It includes popular messengers. Find out more here.
These tools allow you to protect data privacy and provide the opportunity to communicate with other internet users freely.
The primary purpose of such applications is to provide convenience and data transfer speed. But is it all so safe?
Choose the best messenger for your security here.
What’s wrong with messenger function?
Despite the seemingly positive aspects of popular messengers, most of them fuel abusive and illegal behavior, misinformation, and hate speech, as well as hoaxes and fraud, and all this to the detriment of the vast majority of their users.
In 2018, a conducted investigation considered the role of some functions in messengers as unsafe. For example, sending messages without checking their accuracy in India and Indonesia has led to several deaths in these regions.
In addition, some applications allow huge groups — up to 200,000 people — or have used an organized mechanism of encrypted propaganda, abandoning the original vision to simulate a “living room.”
In response to the perceived harm, the world government has called on some platforms and messengers to add so-called backdoors or automatically scan messages on the client-side.
However, such measures can negatively affect the fundamental freedoms of each user, as well as increase the risks of his security.
Obviously, such measures and solutions that depend on access to content are rarely effective in combating online abuse, as shown in a recent study by Riana Pfefferkorn of Stanford University.
Product design changes, not backdoors, are the key to reconciling competing uses and misusing encrypted messages.
After all, the content of some messages can be harmful, and their scale and virality allow them to spread quickly and turn into a real public threat.
Researchers and advocates have recently analyzed how changes such as forwarding restrictions, improved labeling, and reduced group sizes can significantly reduce the spread and severity of inappropriate content, organized propaganda, and criminal behavior.
However, without reliable data sets and tools, such measures are ineffective.
Pay attention to Utopia P2P and forget about online threats.
What should we do?
Platforms could do much more. For such important product changes to become more effective, they need to share “metadata” with researchers.
Such data includes aggregated datasets showing how many users the platform has; where and when accounts are created; how information is distributed; which types of messages and formats are distributed the fastest; which messages are usually reported; how and when users are uploaded.
It should be clarified here that this is not just information or metadata in a general sense, for example, name, email address, mobile phone number, close contacts and even payment information.
It is essential to protect the confidentiality of this type of personal metadata, which is why the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights rightly believes that the user’s metadata falls under the right to privacy about online space.
Many studies on this topic assure that such a level of personal data is not needed. Instead, companies should first tell researchers and regulators about the nature and scope of the metadata they collect, who they share such data with, and how they analyze it to influence product design and revenue model choices.
It is known that many personal messaging platforms collect a huge amount of information, which includes a large amount of information for the development, testing of new product features, attracting investment and advertisers, etc.
Researchers and platforms can use all collected data for analysis and ways to increase security measures.
What is personal data and how to protect it? Read more here.
What’s wrong with platform now?
Unfortunately, today’s platforms and applications are not ready to voluntarily share information and strengthen the trust of researchers and users in general. Numerous companies that work with messaging services do not provide basic information about the size of the market or the creation of new accounts. Although, public data exchange would improve the reputation of a messenger like WhatsApp, which is often criticized because of its opacity.
In addition, it is possible to limit the forwarding of messages, thereby reducing the likely virality.
Such feature and design changes can only function with the metadata they collect information currently available only to their eyes.
Today’s internet is concentrated in several influential technology companies with all its functions. However, it is worth considering the distribution of powers among a broader group of stakeholders, including non-profit organizations, researchers, regulators, and investors. Such a measure is the only way today that society will study problems at a deeper level, which will lead to more viable solutions.
At the same time, by paying more attention to the transparency of data collection and storage, we can create fences and best practices that will help make all platforms more reliable.
It is worth noting that we do not need to choose privacy or security as the main component. Most companies, on the contrary, believe that security measures, transparency, and friction contradict growth.
If these companies had more resources and desire, they could find a way to make their platforms more secure and reliable. And such an approach is impossible without the cooperation and the exchange of important information with external stakeholders.
Guide on internet protection for children here.