- Major tech companies like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Uber, and Google have an enormous amount of access to, and influence on, the average person’s life.
- In some cases, the companies have admitted to using their access in data in ways that tend to make people uncomfortable.
- Most recently, Apple apologized for slowing down the performance of batteries on older model iPhones.
Chris Gilliard, a professor who researches privacy and tech policy, provided several examples in a December Twitter thread featuring some of the most notable companies in the world, including Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
Read on to see some of the things tech companies have done that sound too strange to be true:
In 2009, Amazon removed books people had purchased from their Kindles, including ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’
- 20th Century Fox
Amazon gave customers a full refund if they had purchased certain books, including George Orwell’s dystopian classic “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” saying they had been mistakenly published.
Needless to say, removing a book about a totalitarian government that censors information was not a good look.
In 2012, the LinkedIn app uploaded users’ entire calendars from their iPhones and Androids.
Users of the LinkedIn app woke up to the creepy realization that their iPhone and Android calendars had been uploaded to the social networking site.
That didn’t just include calendar entries, but also any notes users had added, including sensitive meeting notes, participants, and dial-in information.
LinkedIn argued that users voluntarily agreed to the practice when gave the app permission to access their calendars, but the company did not communicate the extent to which it would upload users’ information to its servers.
The company soon stopped uploading information from the “meeting notes” section of users’ calendar entries.
Facebook once conducted a psychological experiment on 700,000 unwitting users
- Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg apologized in 2014 when data scientists discovered the company manipulated the newsfeeds of 700,000 users for one week to see how they would react.
The researchers found that two years earlier, Facebook tweaked the users’ newsfeeds to show more positive or negative posts and then gauged whether they posted positive or negative updates about their lives in response.
The experiment raised numerous ethical issues, including whether the unwitting participants had given informed consent or were ever allowed to opt out.
In December, it emerged that Apple had been slowing down the batteries of older iPhones
A month ago, Apple admitted it had been intentionally slowing down the performance of its batteries on older iPhone models.
The company said the move was to prevent older iPhone models from malfunctioning as the batteries age, but many customers saw it as a money grab to encourage people to buy new phones.
A week later, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a far-reaching apology and agreed to lower the price of replacement iPhone batteries for a year.
Uber once used its rider data to figure out when people were having one-night stands
- David Ramos/Stringer/Getty Images
Uber published a blog post in 2012 explaining how, using data about when and where its customers were hailing an Uber, it could approximate when people were having one-night stands.
The post, which was deleted but is still available on the Internet Archive, went on to show which cities and neighborhoods had the highest rate of one-night stands.
Facebook also once told advertisers it could identify when its teenage users felt ‘worthless’ or ‘insecure’
- Robert Galbraith/flickr
In 2017, leaked documents revealed that Facebook executives told advertisers it could monitor posts and photos to identify when its teenage users were feeling bad.
Specifically, it could pinpoint when users felt “stressed,” “defeated,” “overwhelmed,” “anxious,” “nervous,” “stupid,” “silly,” “useless,” and a “failure,” according to The Australian.
Facebook said the reports were misleading, and that the leaked documents were “intended to help marketers understand how people express themselves.”
Google admitted its Street View cars were collecting data from local WiFi networks
- Flickr / Sancho McCann
In 2010, Google admitted that the antennas on its Street View cars had been intercepting Americans’ data sent on local unencrypted WiFi networks.
Google called it a software mishap and said that when it learned about the data collection, it immediately ended the practice.
But a Federal Communications Commission report two years later revealed that the Street View cars were “intended” to collect the data, and engineers at the company had transferred the data to a storage facility in Oregon.
On top of that, Google tried to suppress the bad publicity by requesting the FCC to redact much of the damaging information about the company in its report.
Bonus: Several companies have been accused of listening in on customers’ conversations and targeting ads based on what they hear
- Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters
OK, this one hasn’t been proven, but it’s the conspiracy theory that won’t die.
There are countless accounts of Facebook users who received targeted ads about a subject they had just had a face-to-face conversation about, even if they had never posted about the topic or searched for it online.
The stories often sound a little too suspicious to be mere coincidence, but Facebook has persistently denied that it is listening in on its users.
Meanwhile, Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft have faced accusations that their voice-activated personal assistants are listening on people’s conversations when they aren’t activated by voice commands.
The companies have denied the rumors, however, and have pointed out that while their tech does record commands given after they’ve been activated, users are welcome to go online and delete them.