Don’t put any information on social media that you aren’t comfortable having every person in the world knowing.
If that wasn’t crystal clear before, the events of the last few months should have hammered the point home. Even if, like me, you’re one of the hundred of thousands of people whose entire life history the Chinese government scooped-up in its hack of the Office of Personnel Management, watching what you offer up is just good advice.
ClearanceJobs contributor Christopher Burgess and I have both written about how Chinese intelligence is using Linkedin to identify and target people in the intelligence community. But in those cases, the intel operatives were merely using the site the way it was designed: to find other people in their professional field and connect with them to share knowledge… even if that sharing was done unwittingly.
Now Facebook seems to have introduced a new factor into the equation.
Data sharing with Chinese companies
Tuesday afternoon, The New York Times published what at any other time would have been a bombshell story, but now is just another data point in the eroding of the last shreds of individual privacy. Facebook was already in hot water with the government for the way it shared user data with Cambridge Analytica, which in turn used that data to help the Trump campaign. On Sunday, the times reported how the social media giant has been sharing user data with cellphone makers like Apple and Samsung for years.
Tuesday, the company confirmed it has data-sharing agreements with four Chinese tech companies. Among those four are Huawei, the cellphone maker classified as a national security threat by the intelligence community, and Lenovo, which has a history of installing troubling software on its laptops that could enable someone to intercept a user’s encrypted data. Facebook admitted to the Times that these agreements allowed Chinese companies to gain access to “detailed information on both device users and all of their friends — including work and education history, relationship status and likes.”
This information is a boon to marketers, but it is also a goldmine for spies. While Facebook said the “data shared with Huawei stayed on its phones, not the company’s servers,” given the company’s suspected close ties to the Chinese government, that’s doubtful. While I wrote about the IC’s concerns regarding Huawei and fellow telecom ZTE, these fears are nothing new. As the Times reported, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) recalled an October, 2012 report from the Senate Intelligence Committee on this very issue.
It’s not paranoia when they’re out to get you
When Edward Snowden revealed details of the National Security Agency’s domestic operations, including its collection of cellphone metadata, insiders joked that the NSA wasn’t listening to you, average citizen, because you’re boring. American civilians should probably worry about the privacy of their data. But like the NSA, the Chinese government doesn’t have much use for the personal information of housewives in Topeka.
For cleared professionals, the threat is different, and very real. Every scrap of information is a potential puzzle piece that could help an adversary like China either complete the picture, or far more personally damaging, provide the leverage needed to trap a person into a situation where they feel compelled to share classified information.
The Chinese, Russians, and other adversaries are trying to gain every advantage in the great global power game. It’s what countries do. It’s why everyone employs spies. But given the very real possibility that, to borrow a phrase, what you say can and will be used against you, it pays to be discreet and limit the information you share through social media.
After all, you’re not Facebook’s customer; you’re their product.