Views & Reviews
Law In Motion: Cyber Crime 14 – Social Media Frauds
Nothing works in isolation – at least not in this immensely inter-connected and inter-dependent world – neither climate, nor flora and fauna; neither countries or state or villages or communities nor institutions and organisations. Wired or wirelessly connected devices are no exception and nor are any computer systems. Though we are still some ways away from artificially driven world, we are already seeing changes where predictive texts, sentences or responses are increasingly becoming the order of the day. These predictive or artificially driven or self- learning machines range from small or large, repetitive action robots to tools based on ‘big-data analytics’, some of which assume shapes of models to predict weather and climate patterns to switching of nuclear power reactors or simply the self-driven Tesla cars. The use of Google Maps is an easy example. Thus, social media frauds are essentially frauds committed by criminals by using ‘Social media tools’ as instruments of crime. Almost inevitably, somewhere down the line, a human interface is imperative.
What is Social Media?
Social media is a collective term used to refer to any technologies which facilitate, permit, allow or provide a platform for creation, sharing or exchange or transmission/ reception of content (ideas, information, expressions) via or between or among communities by virtual means (not physical means) and networks. The content may be text or images or graphics or only audio or only visual or a combination of all or any of these means of content creation.
Some features of social media are as follows: –
(i) Social media is interactive application;
(ii) Its lifeline is ‘user-Generated’ content as opposed to ‘owner-generated’ or ‘Owner created’ content only where only the owner only can change the content and the other users are merely ‘passive users’ or ‘consumers.’
Thus, user generated content can be texts, images, graphics, photos, audio-visual material which convey the ideas, opinions or vies of the users.
This ‘user generated’ content is the lifeblood and the circulatory system of the social media.
(iii) Users can create individual or Group IDs through which they can exchange content or share content.
The users can either be hosts themselves like the bigger companies’ Twitter, Facebook, Hike, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Telegram etc. or can provide space or platform for sub-hosts or groups or individuals to share content.
The hosts and sub-hosts may be owners of date or content or just providing platforms or be just intermediaries. The person/group who creates and shares the content cannot absolve himself the responsibility of being an owner.
(iv) Social media help develop Social-networks by helping provide a medium or a platform for users to connect with each other. The users may be using their own, original profiles or even fake or spoofed profiles.
Before the advent or introduction of smartphones, social media users used websites to log in and interact with other users. These users primarily accessed the social media websites through personal computers and/ or laptops. Since internet connectivity and speed was not very good, a large proportion of users accessed these platforms from cyber cafes – a preponderance of users were youngsters and adolescents.
However, after the smartphone revolution commencing around 2008-2009, the introduction of Apple phones on iOS and the Android based smartphones, virtually person had a computer in his hands or pockets. Better internet speeds, ease of operation of smartphones, better speed and storage capacities of smartphones, better quality of Cameras – photos as well as audio-visual capabilities meant that empowered user did not necessarily have to be a computer expert – just basic literacy was enough- not even computer literacy.
Smartphones on iOS and Android created almost unlimited possibilities for users as well as software developers. Built around robustly secure and sturdy ‘operating systems’ as iOS and Android are called technically, these operating systems provided Unlimited Opportunities and Possibilities which could integrate and merge into or ‘ride’ on the operating systems but provide numerous functionalities for users. These softwares came to be know as Applications or Apps.
What are Apps or Applications –
Applications or Apps are softwares created by software developers, who either work for the major companies like Facebook, Telegram, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Hike, Yahoo, Messenger, etc. or by standalone, independent developers. These applications can be downloaded and installed on smartphones by users. Sometimes the apps have some limited functionalities while at others they incorporate all features of the main software.
Once downloaded and installed, the apps become an integrated feature of the smartphones. However, the users can uninstall the apps at their own will and convenience.
The Apps manufacturers keep upgrading the features and functions and also security features on their products.
While the users can choose to upgrade the apps as per their will and convenience, some apps and smartphones also allow the apps to be upgraded automatically or periodically.
The apps are broadly categorised as Free Apps and Paid Apps. While Free Apps can be downloaded from Play Store/ App store etc. freely without and charges, users have to usually cough up some money for paid apps. This money is paid online by using credit/ debit cards.
Some apps are available either in full version and full features for a limited time period as Free trial. After the completion of free trial period, either the app stops functioning, or money may be directed from your account if you have provided bank/ card details.
How Do Free Apps Earn Revenue –
There are millions of apps on Google Play Store and iOS based Appstore. A substantial proportion are FREE APPS. The uncommon common sense should trigger us to ask – why should someone spend time, money and effort in making an App which is free? The corollary is how does an app generate revenue/ profits for the makers?
Though an exhaustive list is not possible, I will mention some of the revenue models: –
(i) Big Companies like FB – Their apps are an augmentation to their main content and services and they generate revenues for their own apps on their own platform;
(ii) Twitter etc- Along with their free services or downloads, these companies insert advertisements based on user profiles or references.
The advertisers pay to companies like Twitter, True caller, etc for displaying ads.
(iii) Free Download Apps – Free download apps usually are packed with advertisements again. The app developer is paid by Google on the basis of complex revenue sharing formulas based on the visibility of the ads, ad-clicks, ad-displays, or ad-opening or even on the basis of number of downloads for a particular app.
Free download apps Rarely free of Ads.
The ads displayed can be parent company advertisements or third-party advertisers, all based on complex algorithms with little or no human intervention.
Thus, there can be various revenue sharing models which exist.
The revenue models are based on either advertisements or providing internal platforms for communication and business within the organisations or between organisations. Advertisements are the major source of revenue for apps developers and social media platforms. The social media platforms use very sophisticated methods of advertising which help in targeted advertising. The advertisement models can be tuned to target advertisements to specific geographical locations – locations like countries, regions within countries or specific provinces or districts or even towns and cities. The advertisements can also be targeted in specific languages based on user preferences, user location and even change of location of the user.
Some advertising models also draw on the databases like user contacts to establish which are the frequently used contacts and even to detect their preferences for advertisements for specific products. Use of ‘key words’ by the social media platforms to read the user communications in an automated manner are also very common. In fact platforms like YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumbler, etc., use automated tools to ‘crawl upon’ your communications and target advertisements towards users.
Some of the targeted advertisements keep displaying themselves even before a user starts using an app. Not all advertisements and links are benign, and one should be careful about clicking those advertisements or giving permissions to the apps to use the smartphone features. These could be potentially disastrous for users, at least hypothetically.
While we are all in the habit of accepting all the conditions while using various browsers or applications, it may be worthwhile to have a look at the ‘terms and conditions’ (T&Cs) and ‘end user licencing agreements’ (EULAs) before clicking on “I agree” or “I accept”.
Most of the terms and conditions and EULAs are a virtual ‘tool-kit’ on what the app developers or browser companies intend to capture from users and what use they can put that that data too. However, unfortunately we never read the T&Cs or EULAs, severely jeopardising of safety on the internet.