Privacypodden Meets Göran Wågström

How can Facebook be seen as a state? The founder and CEO of Idka, Göran Wågström, recently sat down for a chat with Didrik Värmon of Privacypodden, a Swedish podcast covering topics such as social media, technology, and integrity online. In this episode they talked about the power of Facebook, the future of privacy tech and how social media has affected our society. Listen to it here in Swedish, or read our recap of the episode below.

The need for a privacy platform

Göran has worked within the telecom- and IT business all of his life. Although, it wasn’t until 2013, when he sat down with his friend [and co-founder of Idka], Bjørn Stormorken, that the talk of privacy started. Göran got more frightened the more he learned about how much information is collected from people on the internet. That’s when the idea of Idka started to grow.

“Idka is a platform for communicating, sharing and storing,” Göran says. “It’s a combination of a newsfeed, a chat, and a storage service. If you compare Idka to other platforms, you could say that it integrates Facebook’s newsfeed, chat, and DropBox all in one platform. Privacy is the foundation of what we do. The data you share is yours. You’re in full control, and we don’t have any rights to your data whatsoever.”

Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, to name a few, collect a huge amount of data. Göran explains that the data is processed through algorithms that then create a profile on you. “These platforms can, for example, tell if you’re a psychopath, if you’re gay, or if you’re a republican. They have maybe around 5000 to 10 000 points of information on you, and you have no idea what they are,” Göran says. “Some of them are facts, and some are characteristics that the algorithms have calculated. If you click on certain things or read certain articles, these platforms will eventually have built an entire profile on who you are, without you ever voluntarily having said it. When Google or Facebook tells you that you can download your data, you don’t get to see this profile they have on you.” Didrik adds, “What I see in my feed is different from what you see. We all live in our own little bubbles.”

So, what can you do to reduce your digital footprint? Göran suggests leaving the platforms that collect and sell your data, as a first step. He also suggests to use browsers such as Brave, that remove cookies and block fingerprinting. Another tip is to use search engines such as DuckDuckGo and Startpage, and to minimize the data access on your phone by turning off your GPS, Bluetooth, and WiFi.

Facebook as a state

What is it that makes Göran think of Facebook as a state? First things first: Mark Zuckerberg has himself said that you can look at Facebook as a state. “Another thing is Libra, Facebook’s own currency,” Göran says. “If it goes through, Facebook will have control over an economy in a way we’ve never seen before, and they’ll get further insight into people’s behavior. That’s data collection on a whole new level.”

Is there a potential future where we have Facebook as our ‘big brother’? For Göran, that risk is obvious. He mentions the Cambridge Analytica case, where they, with the help of platforms, started to dismantle democracy. “We’re putting so much power into commercialized companies, and with this process it’s only becoming more dangerous,” he says.

Göran says that the right to a protected private life is a fundamental part of human rights, along with other rights such as freedom of speech. You might not feel comfortable revealing your religious or political beliefs on social media, but when platforms like Facebook collect our data, they can find out anyway. “The whole aspect of human rights has been torn to shreds on social media,” Göran says.

Göran continues, “We also know that Facebook, as well as other platforms, is intensively used by other dictator regimes all over the world. The regime in the Philippines, for example, has been educated on how to use Facebook against the population; how to stalk them and spread propaganda. Another case is Myanmar, where one million muslim people have been driven out of the country – all of it mobilised on social media.”

Göran says that if companies around the world get control over AI [artificial intelligence], then we’re on our way towards only a handful of companies having complete world domination. It’ll create a monster we don’t know the effect of. “That is a terrifying thought,” Göran exclaims.

The future of privacy tech

Didrik asks what Göran thinks of the future of privacy tech, and his opinion on platforms paying the user for giving their data to them. Göran responds by saying that he’s completely against it, because it won’t solve any problems. On the contrary, people will be more enticed to give more information away.

He continues by saying that privacy tech is given more and more attention today, probably because of the Cambridge Analytica case. More and more people are showing interest in digital privacy, but there is still a challenge in making people understand that a mere click on a “like” button can affect an entire election in the United States.

“We have to help each other out. We have to communicate, so people can make a conscious choice of staying on these platforms or not, and what that would mean for the future,” Göran exclaims. “We have to join together to spread knowledge, and this podcast [Privacypodden] is a fantastic start to that. It’s important that we try to reach out in different contexts to try to make people listen.”

Are you interested in hearing more of Privacypodden? You can listen to their podcast here.