Tip Sheets

X biometrics collection: Cornell experts on fighting bots, privacy

Media Contact

Becka Bowyer

Social media platform X plans to collect user biometric, employment, and education data as a matter of policy. 

Stephen Wicker

Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Stephen Wicker, professor and expert on data privacy, says biometrics collection on social networks can reduce nefarious use and weaponization of the platforms, but also represents a concern to users, who may be more at risk for identity theft as a result.

Wicker says:

“The announcement is at least an acknowledgement that X will be doing what other social networks have already been doing in a more covert fashion.

“The update to its policy is in part an acknowledgement that X has a problem with fake users. The use of biometric data will at least ensure that there is a real person behind the account and increase the likelihood that we know who that person is. This is a good thing, as it will somewhat reduce the weaponization of the platform for covert political and other nefarious purposes.  

“On the other hand, X’s announcement is an expansion of the ongoing farming of social network users for personal data that can be used for directed advertising. The combination of biometric, employment and education data further increase the ability of advertisers to maintain simulacra of individuals, digital representations of the individual that often contain errors that distort communication, and through hacking can fuel identity theft. The economy of personal data continues to be a problem for the individuals that provide the data, while a source of wealth for those that take it.”

Daniel Susser

Associate Professor

Daniel Susser, associate professor of information science, studies technology ethics and policy. Susser says the move by X highlights limitations of current privacy regulation.

Susser says:

“With this update to its privacy policy, Twitter (X) is revealing itself to be like many internet companies – intent on collecting as much personal information about its users as possible, both in order to optimize its services and to monetize.

“Perhaps usefully, though, this move illustrates both the value and the severe limitations of current U.S. privacy regulation, which places few constraints on data collection by private firms, provided they notify users first.

“Despite the name, most privacy policies are actually descriptions of virtually unfettered commercial surveillance – they do not meaningfully protect people’s privacy. But forcing companies to write them is useful, because it creates opportunities for the media and civil society organizations to draw attention to these practices. Hopefully, it will provoke people to push back.”

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