All posts by Ivo Escobar

Student of Linguistics. Media Researcher. Teacher and Musician from Brazil.

The danger of normalizing behavior isn’t what you think.

The danger of normalizing behavior is often associated with the generational aspects we’re too lazy to debate. If young kids are using the N word, blame social media! If some 13 year old is called a slut during a history class, we should again resort to the same argument! If a man in his 30s in caught on tape (meaning, someone’s phone) exhibiting hostility toward a gay couple, well, then we can’t blame social media because some countries have different laws? And would you look at that: it doesn’t matter if we find out the background of the attacker and potential abuser: the laws protect this group of people. Freedom of expression will be called on to solve the debate, but only on the internet. On the ground, people are likely to get hurt. But the laws are perfect, they say. Who do we call on to convince people, each at a time and with proper reasoning, that niggers, sluts and gays are all supposed to be equal under the law?

There’s no “proper reasoning”. If we say that “fair and balanced” is the way to go, we’re saying it doesn’t matter that Black people have endured slavery and the horrors of persecution, among other kinds of assault; we’re not doing enough to protect women, who have, historically, been suppressed of rights; we fail to accept that sexuality is a personal matter, which sounds way too basic for certain groups of Western society and also in the Eastern world (if you’d look at Japan, for instance), but not among others. In a reparations mindset, this means that the TV will have gay couples broadcast, and that was a corporate agreement in line with demands from the public. When you see a Black man on TV, there should be a reminder for everyone that it hasn’t always been like that, and women journalists have yet to see a less toxic environment while on the job; if we’re talking about Don Lemon, with all the criticism you may have, we’re talking about some kind of representation.

It’s not fair and balanced if, for centuries, a system privileged one group, which has accumulated not just wealth but also prestige, influence, power, knowledge and a series of protections, including on how to protect each of those previous items, and then place a coin on the other side of the scale, counterbalanced with the wealth of the International Monetary Fund, and say you’re doing your part, as a champion of social justice. No, you are freaking not. Notice how the internet really works: I’m not allowed to curse. Even among my peers, I’ll be accused of using inflammatory discourse, and that’s a bad thing. But it’s 2023, and everyone’s fucking or at least trying to; I’m just writing a text that serves the common good and I happen to think this is a good adverb of intensity (look at me, I’ve studied Linguistics!) — but they’ll have a prompt answer: do you think about the effect you have on other people? Why do you always wanna steal the show?

Curiously, they don’t make a lot of specific references to who’s stealing actual things and money, actual people. Did you hear about the recent statistics on kidnapping attempts? Did you see the stories talking about money laundering and international banks scamming people? On another front, are you familiar with corporate decisions of making workers go through shorter shifts? Or did you trust a certain network when they said that the labor market was tight? And then everything comes into play: “what do you mean by tight?”, you may ask. The answer might be best informed by ChatGPT. Afterall, it was backed by real data, in huge bulks collected over the years.

If we want to do better in education, as The Guardian suggests, by making sure we stop harassment at school, then we need new materials. What people seem to fail, repeatedly, to realize is that whatever’s new is going to normalize things that weren’t common in a scope of years to the past. It may be 5, but with this pandemic, it may be 3 or even less. A yearly program that updates itself would require new preparation of materials every year; but the problem is that teachers know the goals of the previous year were far from being achieved. They talk about actual recycling, but they don’t like anything too old-fashioned in education — unless they wanna go back to the beginning of the century, when mistakes in math got you a spanking. And now, it seems, we think it’s something absolutely abnormal to even use the word “spanking”, when that’s something we may, and only may, look for on the internet when we’re young and again, might perhaps apply to real life.

The problem is we’re seeking a remedy, because the remedy sells. But the bigger problem is that if you focus on the cure, you’ll meet extremists who want to ban sex from even being debated, at a biological level, as the story reports. For me, there are two genders that I know about. I acknowledge transgender rights. I’m not looking at anyone’s medical history, but if there are other species in nature that have other bodily functions and interact with the environment in different ways, I’m not here to analyze that. I’m here to teach my English class. And the English speaking community, which is large enough to disagree with my every word, since it can’t possibly be legitimate (make a list: racism, xenophobia and so on), will turn a blind eye, if you’ll excuse the expression, to the main arguments and say: “but this could’ve been an email”.

Of course, we have much more urgent things to address. There are violent groups organizing out there. Some of those groups may be represented by the people you least suspected. And that alone is unsettling. If there’s one thing we can do for the betterment of society is to keep violent discourse away from children’s environment. But they will have to face their battles. They will have to confront their bullies, on or offline. What we’re seeing is how this happens on both stances, and ends up generating an even worse bully. Is this what we’re actually having to deal with? A naturalization of bullying? If that means you can refute people with a better argument and facts that contradict what they’re saying, great: that means we’ll have less fake news and hate speech, and both science and common sense win. But the ethical lines are more complicated than that. If I had the job of correcting every person’s English in my country, would I do it for money or just to troll? What’s funny is that now I might wanna do both. And then, invite a Black bisexual woman who likes to show off on the internet to participate in that process. We can talk about China later.

Should we pay for social media visibility? A look at marketing practice in 2023

It’s past 10PM, and your family members are about to go to sleep. No, you’re not 14 years old: you’re in your 30s, and wondering what you can do to boost your channels. But because that’s too much work, you think about small distractions — which are good for your mental health, disputes aside. Instead of posting on LinkedIn, you scroll Tinder. And there you go: after 20 minutes on the platform, you come across this seemingly friendly person, mutual interests aligned, but you’re out of likes. That’s when Tinder suggests you to pay and get more out of the experience, and you’ll begin to have strong personal opinions about social media visibility.

Premium services are nothing new. In fact, it may seem like something recent, given the streaming wars debates and business model criticism that we saw, for example, with Substack. But we all remember, in case nobody’s out to call out on our “boomer bends” or anything like that, that we wanted to have cable TV; we couldn’t because it was too expensive. What we’re more interested to know is how to navigate personal and professional lives knowing that social media has changed everything, but there’s a generation who just doesn’t see it.

The easiest thing for this younger generation should be learning, as debates on ChatGPT take on the entire internet; for a lot of people, in practical life, they just want memes to look at and maybe someone’s company. The pages don’t even have to stay there: there’s an algorithm. The people don’t have to stay either, but this sparks up a more traditional battle between the ideal of monogamy and free-spiritedness. Tinder is a blessing and a curse, but few point out how.

While one user might be scrolling to see 10 different matches every hour, another might have 1 every 6 months or even a year. This blogger leans to the former setting. I’ve seen so many people who had more money than me and a lot less expectations apparently, but were still unapproachable, that I just gave up on the whole thing. As it turns out, you can pay to keep scrolling, and you can pay to see who likes you — and save a lot of time, instead of dating in a cassino. Sure, you won’t lose all your money; but who does the algorithm show your profile to? How do you reverse-engineer this thing, and make sure you’re doing something for your benefit, instead of looking for trouble, which comes with security issues and structural issues in parallel?

The platform has been debated by a series of media productions. Notably, I’d say, Netflix series Sexify puts together a nerd of many sorts, her friend, whose family is traditional to the point of going to Church every Sunday and making her marry a man who’s serving the military, and a girl who’s more “free-spirited”. The latter character, in this particular context of social life, is shown in a scene scrolling Tinder, and it takes her 10 seconds to find a new sex partner. So much for detail.

The criticism is there, but who’s paying attention? Most of the audience for the show might have found it searching for something lighter to watch, and many didn’t expect a production from Poland to pop up in the suggestions. But far from being the central issue (which, further down the series, will be the prospect of work for young people), this portrayal calls everyone’s attention to an appealing context: finding an instant gratification.

Today’s discussions on what we call “creator economy” and what it takes to have social media visibility seem very decentralized. A more careful look at what’s happening in the world of work will take data analysis to the center of debates and explore ethical standards along with the power to measure, accurately and fairly, but according to someone’s imprinted input, the concept of “reputation”. We should all be mindful that the internet doesn’t forget, but also behave so we don’t get suspended — which means the platform is making everyone forget about us. Isn’t there a point of friction somewhere?

Social media visibility is a concept, but it can translate to numbers. What we analyze when we post and wait for feedback is not how much authority we have on a given subject; it might be how attractive people think we are, or how funny, how cool and maybe how woke. We’re all fighting different battles, and most of the time, what bothers you about someone’s activity is simply the fact that you don’t have the time to do the same. You’d love to be heard, but not steal the microphone from a business authority or someone in the political spectrum. Yet, it seems we’re all doing exactly that.

Being knowledgeable and coherent is, for some people, more appealing than the very concept of appeal which we can display by revealing our bodies; but if you combine these with being knowledgeable and coherent, you’re in for troubled navigation of your social environments. This blogger excuses himself to say the expression “brains and booty” is one he’d wear on a t-shirt, but what about big tits? We can’t misrepresent people who are flat, but think about the whole structuring of society. We also shouldn’t think the girls posting on Instagram are intentionally looking for shitty DMs, and to be fair, people have started to choose privacy instead a long time ago. Except, of course, public people. Is that what “being knowledgeable” is?

Being in the public eye for everyone’s scrutiny can mean two things: your face and body are gonna be judged, or your words and arguments. No your instead of “you’re”. No typos, ever. And honestly, when we look at it like that, it feels like we’re not in the realm of personal branding anymore, but rather, in the realm of business and public relations (two very different areas). To contextualize, we can all agree that certain figures will make a great brand ambassador, though it’s debatable now what happened to Kanye West and Adidas; but imagine if it was someone in the likes of António Guterres who wore a sweater. For lack of a better word, that would make most people “cringe”.

Overall, it can be said that social media visibility is good for brands and also people. But the analysis (and time available for that) will vary, not just because people aren’t brands; brands and people alike are using a common platform. And that is more of a technical aspect. If we want to understand what our role in society is, it matters to look around. That can be done on either an app like Tinder or, in case you still believe that’s possible, on Twitter (and we’ll always miss believing it, some of us).

What the platforms are saying about us, though, seems to have more veracity than both what we say on platforms and what we say about them. It’s great to say what you came here for. But every now and then, we turn on the news and we tune in to see what we should avoid. Whether the advice of not becoming the story is valid or not, nobody wants people talking behind their backs; but they want to feel seen. Business accounts on social media are still navigating that, and along with the people who run it, how much visibility they’ll get will depend on a series of factors — some of which are not in our hands. Like the people paying for Tinder, companies pay for good press. And we’re still far from understanding how much money is being spent on that alone.

Banned accounts and marketing

When you think about banned accounts, you think about egomania, misinformation, psychopathic behavior and threats to people and institutions. But if you have an account stalked by a major group of people, the reports made by them could suspend you very easily. Stalking, for the Instagram economy, is sexy. But they’re not about that, openly. They’re about real friends… or is it Snapchat? No, wait, Snapchat is the sexy one. But have you been banned?

Social media lost track of what’s acceptable or not, in a dangerous trend. After seeing so many ignorant people posting comments and presenting that as a linguistic database for accelerated scientific research, anything goes, really. Needless to say, people are just lazy, and there’s no scientific research going on. But everyone seems to have an opinion. Is it because they’ve read it somewhere else?

The lack of original content that’s not in the category of entertainment is difficult to even look away from when you put it on a scale. Ancient philosophy had an explanation about original content: the muses, a connection with the Gods, inspired creators. Who are the muses of 2023? People who say they will not control us and we will be victorious? That’s a little outdated.

Meta is a scandal of a company, and they must have a big banned accounts department. Headquartered on Hacker Lane, from the beginning they do what they’re not supposed to. But how do they market this idea? A place for friends and family? It’s free, and will always be? How much advertising dollars have content creators given to Meta and its platforms, along with data, only to fall into scams and tricks by algorithmic manipulation that leads them to a failed campaign? Who doesn’t have a feelings something’s not right with metaverse investing? Reason, anyone?

The academics pushing for AR and VR are excited about improvements in Medicine, not your masturbation experience or your freaking Minecraft. I know that for a fact, thanks to the UNSW in Australia. But if I wanted to copy the Coursera platform’s model and offer courses on demand, nothing would change much. The transition to video isn’t so relevant when you have relevant study materials at hand and the help of a teacher. But this isn’t a defense of my business model.

The fact that we’ve trusted so much on algorithms is astounding. Reports are coming up on Mastodon that the chronological order of content is disappearing, and so narratives from “the top” are seeing a push. We didn’t pay enough attention to the meme economy. If we had, we’d know that our posts have to be special to be liked — that is, of course, if we want to avoid objectification on the web.

A banned account can downgrade to banned for reasons that go from your hater list’s misunderstandings of decades ago with you to the CEO’s advantage point. And we’ve seen a lot of the latter. People need to start to realize that social media is, indeed, powerful. But not if we can’t control it. Then it works against us.

How do you market banned accounts? They’re banned! Your marketing will not run. Your post will mean nothing. Nobody will read you, let alone share. Maybe we have to think about how to convince people of what’s happening on social media. That requires educating people on social media movements that took place in the last decade.

From the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter to March for our Lives to School Strike for Climate, then looking at Tumblr and Twitter’s demise, the Big Four hearing, the price of drugs in America, unionizing and representation issues, it all should deserve a chapter. But these are big stories already. Who’s pushing for the unknowns to be known, in a time when journalists get banned from the widest public platform in the world, owned by a billionaire who avoided court because he stutters and is full of shit? Of course, if you say that, add yourself to the banned accounts list.

Public people have to take a moment of pause and make themselves available for questioning. You don’t see Kara Swisher as a victim (besides when people call her annoying), but you see her attacking. Julie Sweet, on the other hand, has all the tools at her disposal to change the entire web, a place that Leif K-Brooks might have envisioned as something else, until regulators came in. Remember Christopher Poole? He worked on Maps, while Snapchat grew and got hacked by Meta. And Sheryl Sandberg quit, but so did Marissa Mayer. And we think Taylor Lorenz and Emily Chang are comparable figures in tech journalism.

Another guy who’s full of good intentions is Adam Mosseri. An enthusiast who’s not very enthusiastic about the creator economy, on his TED talk, he avoids metaverse debate and thinks about a way to compensate creators simply because TikTok was offering people money. What about the people at 9Count, did they remove spam yet? What about Boo, Walk Safe and Udemy? These are all great initiatives. But we’re already on the cringe level. Best chance we get is make a squirting joke by filming a cat sprayed with water and posting it with a slow motion reaction that turns into a song. Reverse engineering?

Tá na hora de falar sério: o que é fluência?

Muita gente deve ter visto o título dos meus blogs e pensado: mas não era uma proposta sobre fluência no inglês? Por que esse papo todo sobre tecnologia, sobre política e cultura, até sobre segurança e paternidade? Qual é o sentido de falar sobre as ferramentas dos aplicativos quando eu quero aprender a me comunicar numa outra língua e preciso entender o básico?

Acho justo fazer uma pausa.

Tecnologia, política e cultura são assuntos realmente recorrentes aqui. Segurança é algo que abordo de vez em quando, e paternidade às vezes é necessário comentar, devido à cultura jovem. As ferramentas vão ensinar todos a navegar um mundo que passou para o digital a maioria das nossas eperiências.

Mas e a fluência?

Fluência e participação

Para fazer parte da vida de um país falante de inglês, você precisa entender tudo isso que foi citado. Imagine que você tenha entre 30 e 50 anos, e queira falar sobre o uso do TikTok. Isso faz parte de um debate da sociedade, em que o papel das grandes empresas de tecnologia está sendo questionado mais do que o conteúdo da plataforma propriamente dito. As empresas americanas pensam em banir o aplicativo, por conta do uso de dados de menores de idade.

Saber o que os seus filhos fazem na internet é importante. Saber como se comunicam também, além do que consomem. Mas existe uma diferença entre fazer isso e produzir relatórios sobre ambos, onde tudo pode ser acessado e explorado pelo marketing. Essa é uma questão se segurança, envolve cultura e também a relação de pais e filhos.

Mas saber o que é o TikTok é essencial. Não adianta muito ler um artigo de opinião que fale e pense por você, sem que você mesmo acesse o conteúdo daquele aplicativo e veja o que é produzido, assim como o que é gradativamente sugerido pelo algoritmo. É claro, vale pesquisar o que é um algoritmo.

Falar inglês é a mesma coisa. É claro que ajuda, mas você não vai ter o mesmo contato com a língua pelo aprendizado assíncrono, proposto por tantos e tantas no Instagram e mais um monte de empresas de fins lucrativos, como o Coursera, em comparação com o acompanhamento constante de uma pessoa especializada em ensino. O professor e a professora de inglês vão te ensinar a caminhar com as próprias pernas, e você precisa de um guia no começo.

Pode-se pensar também no exame de habilitação. Você estuda as normas de trânsito, mas no momento de fazer os testes, precisa demonstrar domínio da direção do veículo com destreza, e se vier a ser aprovado(a) e não respeitar alguma dessas normas, vai ser multado(a). Assim, o estudo é essencial, e a vida real vai te trazer mais aprendizados do que a teoria. Mas todo mundo que trabalha na área vai saber alertar sobre o que se deve evitar.

Proficiência e fluência

A fluência é a liberdade que você tem ao falar. Diferentemente da proficiência, ela indica que você se comunica com relativa facilidade. Por que relativa? Pois são muitos os fatores extra-linguísticos, socioemocionais, contextuais, que afetam e impactam a nossa produção, principalmente no nível da oralidade. Não se pensa somente em pronúncia, mas em pausas, lapsos e erros gramaticais, confusão mental para lembrar de uma palavra, uso indevido de jargões ou expressões de uso corrente, respostas inapropriadas, digressões, cacoetes, entonação diferente do normal da língua, abreviações e fala conectada. Tudo isso está em prática e em teste na fluência.

A proficiência é o domínio do erro. É uma certificação de que você está ciente sobre quais são os requisitos para se falar bem, seguindo padrões estabelecidos internacionalmente, e que se preparou para não cometer erros comuns e inclusive aperfeiçoou seu traquejo com as palavras e frases de modo que tanto a escrita e a leitura quanto a fala e a compreensão auditiva se mostram acima da média num contexto exigente, como um comentário sobre um livro ou uma entrevista formal num programa corporativo especializado.

Assim, ser fluente significa saber lidar com suas próprias falhas. Isso significa que reconhecê-las é parte essencial do processo. O papel do profissional que lhe acompanha é importante de muitas maneiras, inclusive lhe dando apoio para que busque mais informações sobre aquilo que lhe interessa, e lhe parabenizando após uma boa demostração de um debate em segunda língua, o que pode ser um desafio para você.

Todo mundo quer falar. Mas falar bem é muito discutível. Vimos uma onda de podcasts tomar conta das mídias sociais. De repente, todos estavam pedindo por mais informalidade em canais tradicionais da mídia. E a fórmula deu certo, mas os principais criadores e criadoras são pessoas que vieram de seus próprios contextos. Elas ganharam notoriedade e visibilidade (ou como se diz em marketing, “autoridade”).

Saber conversar com alguém de fora não requer muita coisa. Muitos não vão se interessar, e você não vai se interessar por muitos(as). Hoje, escolhemos com quem queremos uma conversa mais íntima (no sentido de compartilhar informações sensíveis, ou até mesmo literalmente) por meio de aplicativos. E com isso, criamos nossos filtros. Mas a juventude faz o mesmo, e precisamos saber o que é melhor para cada um, em qual momento.

Participar do mundo conectado em inglês

Os seus interesses podem parecer muito excêntricos, causar vergonha ou frustração por não encontrar alguém que os compartilhe. Contudo, é justamente aí que entra o papel da língua comum: o inglês permite a conexão. Eu posso postar sobre línguas e ver uma editora seguir meu perfil, pois o conteúdo agradou. É uma chance de se iniciar um diálogo, ou simplesmente uma demonstração de apoio — depende de nós, às vezes. Eu posso postar uma música e encontrar alguém que goste do som, apesar de o meu bairro inteiro ouvir outro tipo de banda (pra quem quiser, estou no Bandcamp). Uma imagem, um meme, um comentário podem ser o início de uma nova amizade — principalmente se for em inglês.

Por outro lado, as discussões da web estão cada vez mais exigentes de leituras aprofundadas e de um certo conhecimento de causa. Não se interessa mais pelas opiniões de formato fechado da mídia tradicional, e se pretende construir uma nova mídia que seja capaz de dizer a verdade crua, e não meias-verdades. Essa é uma tarefa difícil, pois exige acesso à informação em primeira mão. Por isso, no jornalismo, existem tantas fontes colaborativas e troca de informações.

Você pode ser fluente e falar sobre festas, praia, piscinas, martinis, jet skis e hoteis de luxo. Mas a grande maioria de nós quer falar sobre a sociedade, com uma parcela já exausta dos debates e procurando coisas simples como uma boa piada ou um elogio, sinceridade, um papo cabeça. Isso você pode fazer quando for fluente em inglês.

Para saber detalhes sobre o curso que ofereço, visite o link com o programa da Fluência Participativa.

What’s to learn from a culture of guns?

Earlier today, as I was walking back from my usual doctor appointment, I heard a young man in a car (and you always wonder how they got it) sending a voice message to someone, over the incredibly ethically sound messaging platform WhatsApp: “I’m gonna show you who runs the shit, and I’ll put it in your face”. He was talking about the barrel of a gun, and maybe contrary to rap culture, it wasn’t a sexy message at all.

Now there’s a lot to unpack here, but this blog will be short. I have several issues of my own to handle. This came right after a patient was telling about a conflict in my neighborhood, involving police and drug trafficking. Every neighborhood has its ups and downs, and as I told my social assistant and psychologist, most of us have learned how to separate. What I worried about, I continued, were the young kids, who sometimes didn’t even have a family and went on bike trips to rob people and smuggle.

Brazil has seen a culture of guns get imported from the United States of America. Statista shows that the homicide rates are pretty high in our country (27 per 100 thousand), but are beaten by other countries, which is not a trophy for humanity, especially not El Salvador (52 per 100 thousand). In the United States, the stats are lower. (7 per 100 thousand). However, turn on the news and you’ll hear about mass shootings in schools all the time, several times a year, besides police brutality.

That makes me think that the media has its own culture. There was an old newspaper in Brazil that, in popular culture, was said to drip with blood if you squeezed its paper. At a similar fashion, local news seem to talk about robbery, fraud, violence against women, hate crimes and also manslaughter, not to mention natural catastrophes, consumer issues and the poorly chosen words of politicians from today and the past. The latter, though, is a case for immunity. Hate crime perpetrators have been protected by Brazilians in positions of power, as we all know. To be fair, the narrative of corruption sweeps the country, but the tone has changed. It’s the truth versus the brainwashed minds of the youth.

If Brazil needs to organize and fight for something, then we might just quit watching soccer games and Big Brother Brasil. We might send less memes and get informed about the economy, in decisions taking place that have global consequences and which leaders have to carefully navigate, among public and private sectors; that aside, we have social media and personal lives, which people seem to forget exist for public figures, or at least devote their time exploring, regardless of a right to privacy — and, sometimes, national sovereignty questions.

Famously, the ex-president of Brazil went to Santos to ride jet skis. That’s exactly where I live. He was also on a trip to Jacksonville, home of far-right, book-banning, secretly closeted but nonetheless LGBT hater Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida. The city was named as the next home of the GOP (what Americans call the Republican Party, for the international readers). Despite Disney and its success stories that have endured the test of time, including in the business of streaming, this state is now home to Trump and Bolsonaro, the latter a refugee or asylum seeker. But that’s not what we say about criminals. He’s a man on the loose. And KFC seems to love him, or the contrary.

This man has spent his political career defending the role of the Armed Forces in taking control over the political system of Brazil; he defended that political opponents should be submitted to torture, including at the event of impeachment of ousted president Dilma Rousseff (and it’s worth remembering that was a very picturesque show of character of the Brazilian Congress, which gained two Netflix documentaries, one nominated to the Oscars). He also passed into law the easing of purchasing of guns, including for hunters and collectors (which was on Globo’s National News today).

What we can learn from a culture of guns is that we should drop the guns. It may sound like a cliché, but we should arm ourselves with books; and if you think that’s not your thing, seek knowledge. Seek fun, but maintain a minimal reasonable motive when you decide you want to behave like an animal. Let the internet know that your words are just for show, and that you’re not going to enact any of the said words, or written down, in this case. Let them know you’re a troll — there’s many groups that would accept who you are. But don’t mess with democracy, with working people, and with global institutions working for humanitarian causes. We are bigger, and we’ll win this one, even if we get hurt — in which case, the legal system will provide assistance for us, not to the violent perpetrators. These are the actual rules of the game. But go ahead and play your X-Box, that’s a totally different story.

Two online security measures we need to look at

You’ve probably heard a lot of people talking about online security measures. I’ll cut it short. But first, let me tell you that these are things people are still figuring out. Some people don’t even know about them. What I want here is for everyone reading the blog to be aware that they might need a revamp on mobile or desktop.

Where the debate starts

When the internet wasn’t around, the most obvious thing to think about in terms of security, besides homes, was your bank. That is still true, but there are a number of engineered systems that invade those realms which we like to keep private. Our financial health might be at display, as well as our personal items and behavior when we’re alone.

One way to think about it is that social media became more or less of a home. They even designed the “home” button on browsers and apps, as well as phones. For a whole generation, home will be synonymous with the act of clicking on the reset screen on your device. But if you configure access to third parties, when logging into a different website, you might see prompts by Google and other media companies.

The gist of it is that finding out ways to stop these other people, whose ability to manipulate personal data you’re unaware of, from gaining access to your secrets and conundrums might be a good idea. Another point of view is that to get as much help as you need (or that which you can) might contribute more.

What about specifics?

The tools created for protecting people in the digital world don’t go just as far as third-parties, meaning companies. We know there are several bad actors online. I could say the experiment on Tinder, or even an app like Wink (gaining increased popularity, but beaten by South Korean and Chinese giants), might give you a glimpse. But that is not what user experience specialists believe: they want data to be representative.

How, then, do we secure our communications and avoid disturbances, from a software point of view as well as social and behavioral, mental health wise and so on? Two solutions are Two-Factor Authentication and biometrics. The former assures users that only they can have access to their accounts, on their own devices (but is there tracking?); the latter mixes up elements of banking and verification on socials, increasingly common (but at what point do companies control that?) — and you might face some challenges in setting these things up.

This blog has alluded to some concerns over web security many times in the past, in Portuguese too. One of them resulted on a mention by someone in the Chamber of Congress, over a podcast entitled “Talks about the Future” (8:29).

Woman using her phone to scroll through her feeds. Photo: Pexels.

2FA as part of online security measures

The idea is that you receive a code via SMS to make sure that only through an authorized device will it be possible to access whatever account you set up. The problem: ISPs have a hugely exploitative business model, which makes people pay for speeds they’re not getting, besides floods of spam.

If you don’t have a career plan, you may lose your number altogether, because of a lack of payment, in the pre-paid systems. And then, if you set up 2FA thinking this would protect you, that could mean losing access to an account forever, unless you have the luck to find good customer support, which is, absolutely, able to reverse 2FA remotely.

This alone should make you question a lot of things. Also, if you choose a specialized application, such as Google Authenticator, you should never reset your phone to factory mode, or you’ll lose everything you have saved in there, and not having a second option of 2FA will leave you locked out permanently. Again, customer service could be kind to help, but demand is high.

Biometrics as part of online security measures

We all know that our frontal cameras are not exclusively for selfies anymore — and we knew this from the beginning. It turns out, as we navigate the “adult world”, that biometrics are the most advanced tool that there is to prove you’re a legit user. And so, if your phone gets stolen and your lock screen was biometric, that means good news for you, but bad news for the one who stole it. A PIN code or a pattern could be recorded on camera, through the use of illegal apps.

What some users have faced is a problem with their frontal cameras. Even in the most modern phones, there’s just one of them. So in case something happens to your phone’s security, for a myriad of reasons (from data shared to permissions to compromised accounts to closed phone numbers whose activity is deemed suspicious to a crack on the screen or dust near the movement sensor), you might not be able to access your bank account. You might not be able to verify yourself on a new app. And guess what, you might not be able to take a selfie or post stories every day.

While some of these problems may seem minor, biometrics have been debated extensively by groups of people concerned with the state of surveillance in worldwide domain. If you’re from a poor background and you’re asked to wink to confirm that you’re you in the process of opening a bank account, be wary of the that. Also, don’t underestimate surveillance power and app oversight: these are private companies whose main interest is your personal data, in order for them to make profits.