[Ed Note: The following post is part of the TLF Editorial Board Test 2019-20. It has been authored by Harshwardhan Singh, a third year student of NALSAR University of Law.]
Social media helps us as a platform in establishing connections with family and friends but oversharing on this platform can come back to haunt you at times. It helps us in connecting with the world but if we are not judicious in what we are putting out online, it puts us at a risk. The acts of harm committed online are fairly common these days which can range from Harassment, and defamation to even fraud in some cases. This makes the issue and the topic for this blog post, ‘Identity theft’ fairly important to our understanding.
The scope of identity theft can range from the acts pertaining to imitation or hacking of social media accounts of individuals to even matters where financial motives are also involved. Normally, the cyber identity theft serves as a usual way for the perpetrators to tarnish or jeopardize the reputation of an individual usually by imitating and posing as them or by using their image to further some idea that is likely to affect the individual’s reputation in his circle or group.
Reason behind happening of such acts depends on the motivation and intention of perpetrator. There are some common reasons which might motivate the perpetrator to do so.
Cyber harassment and Bullying
It is the most common of the reasons behind acts of identity theft. It is done either by setting up a dummy account which involves setting up account in a way that resembles the content usually put out by the original user along with using the pictures uploaded on the original account to mask the identity of fake account and posting defamatory and disturbing content or just by hacking into other person’s account and putting out content that might be deemed to egregious and might badly represent the user in eyes of his family, friends etc. There are numerous instances of this, like when an IT professor used MySpace information in order to hack into a friend’s email and bank account or when a Canadian reporter was defamed via a false profile online depicting poorly considered group memberships and intellectually inconsistent political positions.
Scammers and Targeted advertisements
These days, the primary source of the revenue generation that is being used by the social media sites is that of the targeted advertising. It is used by the sites like Facebook and Twitter to show ads to a person based on his interests and his likes/dislikes as it makes them more probable to be clicked upon by the user and hence leading to an increase in the revenue generation for the companies and sites. What happens here is the collection and passing on of data by these social media sites based on the activity of the user on the site and the partner sites by analysing the clickstream data collected by the cookies, analysing your search history and purchase history as well as data from your social profile. Many of these websites force the user to accept the cookies being stored on the device for browsing the site, giving no way to the user to escape from this trap of data collection. It poses a threat to the privacy of a person, if such data is passed on to any malicious third party advertisers, in disguise, causing a data breach.
The same thing happened during the 2016 US Presidential Elections, in which a data analytics firm named, ‘Cambridge Analytica’ harvested data from millions of profiles of US voters on Facebook without user authorisation in order to predict and influence the choices at the ballot box. The company was then headed by one of the key advisers of Trump at that time, ‘Steve Bannon’ orchestrated the biggest data breach in the history of tech giants, Facebook, thus putting the privacy of millions of people at risk.
Usage of information that can be said to be more intimate to the user which on told to other person might lead to an increase in the believability of scam. This might tie one’s account to that of in association with the Hacker and might lead to such identity be used in an elaborate scam. This might be a result of weaker privacy and security settings, posing a risk with respect to your identity being stolen and used for such nefarious purposes, to which you would not be wanting your name being associated to.
Operation of bots for Advertisers
In the past few years, the presence of bots has been gradually been increasing on the social media sites. The numbers of social media accounts that are automated to do some repetitive tasks being disguised as human users has been increasing when in reality these are just pieces of codes that perform tasks which otherwise would have taken a chunk of time, which thus providing an incentive to automate rather than assigning actors to perform those tasks. The bots put out content which they are programmed to do, which can range from political messages to pornographic material. To add realism to the credibility and to give them an appearance of a human actor, identities are stolen from the social media and attached to these bots. This is a big problem as it ties down the identity of victim to the messages or propaganda that is being circulated.
This scam of purchase and sell of bots was exposed by New York Times in their 2018 article titled, ‘Uncovering Instagram Bots with a New Kind of Detective Work’, in which they talked about how this business of the sale of bots is booming due to a demand online by social media stars and influencers. The increase in amount of followers makes an influencer more advertiser friendly to marketing groups who prefer to choose influencers based on their reach and overall audience. What happens is, as a large chunk of these followers are bots, the advertisers are defrauded and could not get back the price that they had paid to such an influencer due to lower levels of reach than what was earlier reasonably estimated. The other problem that it causes is the increase in incentive for the developers of such bots to produce more and more bots and to inject them into the market which leads to an increase in the incidents of the identity theft as identities from random profiles are stolen in order to evade the bot-detection software and give such dummy profiles a look of originality.
 https://www. Scientificamerican.com/article/anatomy-of-social-hack