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Facebook Can Now Tell What You “Copy and Paste”

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Technology continues to simplify our lives as far as the logistics of daily activities are concerned. At the same time, it seems to be making our ethics more complicated, by raising questions that couldn’t even have conceived of as recently as a few years ago. Today we take a look at a particular instance of this phenomenon shared in a recent article, as a part of our continuing exploration of ethics in the digital world.

Facebook has been continuing to expand its offerings with each version of its popular apps, and every iteration of its website. In the latest release of its new app for mobile devices, a new feature keeps track of what you “cut and paste.” When you copy a link using your phone, the Facebook app can recognize this, and quickly prompt you to share the link via your own page.

This raises an ethical concern in that Facebook is collecting data about what a user is cutting and pasting without the user being aware that it is happening. Facebook has long been notorious for the breadth and scope of the information it gathers about users (see a list of other posts about the topic at the end of this article). This ability to see what is on the “clipboard” (the place on your phone all cut and copied text lives) gives Facebook access to a wider variety of information, including some you likely don’t want it to have.

Many users have raised concerns that personal information, ranging from information about family and friends all the way on to passwords, will be viewed and shared by Facebook due to this feature. The passive nature means that Facebook’s app will be constantly monitoring users’ clipboards, even when the app is closed.

Spokespeople for Facebook have said that the app uses an intelligent algorithm to track the type of data on the clipboard, and that Facebook only actively collects something that looks like a URL. They admit that the algorithm “isn’t perfect,” and that a password that includes “.com” or a similar hallmark of a website name, even if it is fake, could end up being processed by Facebook.

Facebook says it isn’t intending to invade the privacy of users through this new move, but that expanding the features it offers requires some degree of increased access to user data. Experts say that it is naive to think that Facebook is the first app to gather similar information, and that passive access to almost anything we do on our phones or computers is a part of the “increased functionality” – and information gathering – that is becoming the new status quo online. “Many iOS apps can access the clipboard and do something similar to what you’re describing. For instance, Flipboard,” cyber security blogger Graham Cluley said in the article linked above.

How do we strike a balance between allowing apps to make our lives simpler, and preventing them from knowing too much about us? The passive gathering of information is one of many ways that new technology is finding new ways to learn more about us. Is this a great way to enhance our lives, or an opportunity to benefit a company at the expense of the public? Discuss this development as a family, and begin to decide where you feel the line needs to be drawn.

For more on similar topics related to information gathering, we recommend our recent posts “Should Facebook Track How Long You Look at a Post?” “Facebook is Expanding, Even After Death”and “Online Data Manipulation: The Ethics of the Future.”

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