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Pandora’s box of social ratings: almost half of consumers have heard about them but don’t know how they work

May 2020 by Kaspersky

Nearly half (46%) of consumers have heard of a social credit system, according to Kaspersky’s latest report, Social credits and security: embracing the world of ratings, that reveals people’s perception of social ratings and if they are prepared to be a part of such a system. Users are actively ready to share their private data and are happy for the government to monitor their social media activity for safety reasons. But for many consumers, it still remains unclear how these automated systems of data-driven services work.

The growing popularity of social media networks and online services has led to a growth in social scoring systems – automated algorithms based on users’ behavior and influence on the internet. Initially, such consumer assessment algorithms were integrated by financial institutions, as well as by e-commerce providers. Today, such systems are applied in many other spheres and sectors. For example, governments and organisations can assess which people are eligible for a wide range of real-world services. Moreover, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world saw the implementation of automated systems to control people’s movements, their ability to buy goods, and their access to social services. But are people actually ready for this?

According to Kaspersky’s report, nearly half (46%) of respondents who participated in the survey from around the world[i], have heard of a social credit system. At the same time, despite these systems being put in place and becoming more well-known, there is some ambiguity over how they operate and how effectively they are being implemented.

Thus, 45% of consumers have experienced issues in understanding how a social credit system works. People can find it is impossible to discover their score, how they are being calculated and how they can be corrected if there are inaccuracies. But furthermore, as these systems are based on automated machine learning algorithms, it is difficult to know what choices they make and whether it’s possible to rely on them - especially in terms of security. According to Kaspersky’s overview of security of social scoring systems, such schemes can be particularly vulnerable to artificial manipulation, like being able to lower someone’s score for various purposes. Additionally, like any other computer system, they are susceptible to different types of attacks, either on the technical and programming implementation or system mechanics. The latter could lead to the emergence of a new type of black market where users’ scores can be converted into real money and vice versa.

However, this does not prevent organisations from further collecting data, especially when people are willing to let it happen. Kaspersky’s report reveals that over 40% of respondents would share sensitive private data to secure better rates and discounts, and to receive special services. Moreover, consumers are much more prepared to share their social media profiles for other aspects of their daily lives.

Remarkably, security issues are especially important for consumers. One-in-two survey respondents (51%) say they are happy for the government to monitor social media activity to keep its citizens safe. “Governments and organisations are digitising quickly, helping them to benefit from technology and consumer data in new ways. On the one hand, technology and data improves their services for people in order to make our lives easier. On the other, it’s not clear how much access to personal information and people’s lives they can request, and most significantly, how they will handle it. This is especially important during situations of global self-isolation, when people have no other option but to rely on online services. And by needing to take control of public life today, people may lose control over their own lives tomorrow,” comments Marco Preuss, Director of Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team in Europe.

Genia Kostka, Professor of Chinese Politics at the Freie Universität Berlin said: “In the past, regulators and policymakers in most countries were not keeping up with the speed at which social rating systems were being widely adopted. Today, while they are being increasingly woven into the fabric of everyday life, it is important to discuss the risks that go along with them, such as privacy violations, discrimination and biases. Societies need to honestly and transparently discuss if and how they want to use such technologies, and, more importantly by whom and for what purposes.”

While the current digital landscape may make it seem like sharing personal information online is inevitable, protecting privacy, both online and offline, is still possible. Kaspersky advises consumers to take the following steps to safeguard themselves:
• Be conscious of what personal information you share online. While social media sites are designed to encourage us to share with others, any information you post is at risk of falling into the wrong hands. Don’t forget to delete your account and history wherever possible when you stop using an app or online service and check which connected services have access to your personal accounts. You can use Kaspersky’s Privacy Check service to explore how to change the privacy settings for your online services to take control of your personal data.
• Our world is changing and that means every part of our lives could be measured and scored. Use caution when sharing your personal information so that you are not denied a service for previous behavior.
• Sharing behavior has its benefits but only with the right services. An online survey may give you a discount off your favorite brand, but this may lead to a company learning more than you wanted them to know. Remain vigilant about your online activities.
• Use a reliable security solution for comprehensive protection from a wide range of threats, such as Kaspersky Security Cloud. The solution also incorporates many features that protect online privacy. For instance, the Do Not Track feature prevents the loading of tracking elements that monitor your actions on websites and collect information about you.




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