I know what you’re reading

I know what you’re all reading. I know an old friend from hall is learning how to lie on his job applications. A girl from my course seems to be […]

I know what you’re all reading. I know an old friend from hall is learning how to lie on his job applications. A girl from my course seems to be interested in man-rape and Dakota Fanning’s sexual provocations. A couple of my friends want to know what happened in the new Skins episode. Did they tell me? Have I been stalking people in the library? Following them around after they bought the paper? Did they share it with me? No, Facebook told me with the new Recently Read feature, connecting media sites like The Guardian, The Independent or The Washington Post to my homepage. 


It may have shown up on your newsfeed too, you’ve seen it as “John D. Smith and 5 other people recently read articles” followed by a list of the articles, with who read which. If you click on any of the story titles, you aren’t immediately taken to the story, as a normal link on someone’s wall would, but you’re taken to approve the specific publication’s app. You click ‘allow’, and there you go, the new story about Emma Watson loads, and you read it. 


After clicking one button, the story is now on your wall. Not just that story, but any other story that you read from that provider. The sole act of going on and reading an article, while at the same time being logged on Facebook, even if you found the article anywhere else, will broadcast to everyone that you’re interested in Justin Bieber’s girlfriend troubles. This is alarming enough, since I tend to be quite selective of the articles I share on my Facebook wall. Everything that you read can be seen by everyone on your network. 


For some people, and for me, that can be accepted. Facebook and these companies are giving us nice ways to share content, and we should embrace it, right? Let’s delve into their privacy policies to see what we’ve all been agreeing to give in exchange for the convenience of knowing what everyone else is reading.


The Washington Post says that they will automatically collect your email address, interests, and other information about your friends. They reserve the right to combine this information with information collected from other sources (like a cookie on your 
browser, tracking your other browsing habits) and other people’s information. They can share your information with all your Facebook network, their parent company, contractors and affiliates, and if they decide that they need to, for legal purposes, even in the absence of a warrant. 


Is The Guardian‘s any better? Not really. They pretty much keep all the same rights as above, but also “the user details of your Facebook friends”, so even if I don’t want to share my own information, The Guardian now has it in their servers and can use it pretty much for anything but marketing purposes by companies not affiliated with them. 


The Independent, that bastion of urban leftism is probably ahead with the times, right? I’m sure they’re far too principled and refuse to mine your profile for information. Well, no. They don’t even have a specific privacy policy with regards to Facebook sharing, only regarding usage of their website, with no mention of your data. Effectively, then, you’re giving them free reign to use the information they can access with their app, so long as the EU privacy laws are followed. Don’t be surprised if you see the stand editors’ profile pictures and saucy information leaked when this publication becomes a threat to broadsheet readership.  


I’ve always been a supporter of free information and more communication. I think being able to see my friends’ Eurotrip photos and being able to read that really cool story about the world’s cutest dog that my friend posted on his wall. But there’s a difference. If I link this article on my wall, I don’t give the stand the ability to track my reader history, store it, link it with my name, surname, photograph and then share it with others. I don’t trust the editors with that information, and I know where some of them live. By allowing access to your profiles, you’re giving all these companies a lot of your personal information, your friends’ personal information, and a lot of power with which to use them.


Next time you click on that link telling you the 10 best ways to cure a hangover, or where St Andrews stands in the latest university rankings, remember that, if you ever do apply for a job at The Guardian, the interviewer will have a list of all the stories you ever read, and will surely use it to decide whether to hire you. If you get into some trouble, The Washington Post will give over to the police your profile picture, list of friends and reading list, even without a subpoena or a warrant. The Independent? Well, they can do anything. If you wouldn’t tell a stranger all your personal information and that of your all your friends and family just to get the newspaper, then, certainly, don’t tell these strangers. 



Written by, Gabriel Puliatti, standpoint writer