Facebook Buys Giphy: Should You Worry About Your Personal Data?
The GIF-making brand, Giphy, has been acquired by Facebook for a reported $400 million. It joins a portfolio that already boasts Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus. This isn’t a huge surprise: Giphy started as a search engine, but users could soon share these GIFs on Facebook. Giphy’s reach grew, as did Facebook’s.
But after the news was announced, users immediately panicked about their security and personal details. After all, Facebook’s suffered a number of privacy breaches recently. So can you trust Giphy now? What data does it actually collect? And how can you ensure your private information stays secure?
What Does Facebook Gain From Buying Giphy?
Facebook reports 50 percent of Giphy’s traffic comes from its brands, predominantly Instagram. That’s why Vishal Shah, Instagram’s VP of product, announced the acquisition, noting that the takeover is in a bid for better integration with Instagram. Shah also says Facebook will work to develop Giphy’s technology and content.
We’re so excited to share some news – GIPHY has been acquired by @Facebook and is joining the @Instagram team! ?
Read more here: https://t.co/U6AYQ16cEQ pic.twitter.com/ATjEY1VK3K
— GIPHY (@GIPHY) May 15, 2020
It already has the largest library of independent GIFs. Its main competitor, Tenor, was bought by Google in 2018, so this once more advances the battle between two internet giants.
And Giphy is certainly a heavy-hitter.
Let’s look at Giphy’s integration across online services. It claims to be “everywhere your conversations are happening”—so that’s social networking sites like Twitter, TikTok, and Snapchat. You can also find it on iMessage, Google Chat, and Slack, as well as Facebook properties like Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp.
Then there’s Tinder, Signal, Trello, Mailchimp, and Telegram. Giphy has become an important part of communication apps.
It’s not difficult to see why this is such a valuable asset to Facebook. In particular, Snapchat is a major rival, as it has a predominantly youthful demographic.
However, it’s important to note that we don’t know which services will continue to support Giphy after the acquisition. It may disappear from competitors and be replaced. Or it may be business as usual. Facebook apparently intends for little to change right now. We doubt it will make any difference to apps which encourage logging in via Facebook, like Tinder and TikTok.
What Data Does Giphy Collect?
After so many privacy scandals, it’s only natural users question whether Facebook also wants more access to data, especially on rival systems like Twitter. But this is only an app that provides GIFs—surely nothing personal is collected about you… right?
Any developers that integrate it into apps have to inform Giphy of the device’s tracking ID.
It’s taken until the acquisition for the most concerning aspect of Giphy to come to light. Whenever you use it, the company can track how a GIF is shared, where (i.e. the platform), and what it expresses. Giphy literally knows if you’re annoyed, happy, or in hysterics.
Giphy can also can track keystrokes—meaning the service can tell what you’re searching for by spying on what you’re typing.
Embedded within GIFs is a tracking identifier which informs Giphy of your online browsing habits: that’s what you search for on the web, and which apps you use.
Couple this with what Facebook already knows about you. Ads might become scarily accurate (if they’re not already).
You might not be on Facebook. You might block its tracking cookies. But through Giphy, Facebook could—potentially—still track you.
How to Keep Your Data Secure
If you want to keep further information about yourself out of Facebook’s hands, your best option is to delete your Giphy account before the switchover occurs.
That isn’t a fix-all solution because other services you use might share data. Check the privacy policies of third-parties; what do they do with your personal information? If you can’t find enough details about sharing, contact them.
Take iMessages, for example. Open a conversation thread, swipe across to More then locate Giphy in the app list. Swipe right to left on it and click Delete. But without it, iMessages uses the search engine, Bing, for its GIFs. This would be fine, except Bing could still source these from Giphy.
Do you trust Apple not to share personal information?
Instead, try another service like the Google-owned Tenor or independents like GIFwrapped. It depends who you want seeing your information—a big company like Facebook or Google, or a smaller entity. You can use software to convert videos to GIFs too.
Of course, you should support services which don’t share details, like Signal. The messenger app acts as a proxy so searches can’t be traced back to you. Instead, searches look like they’re made by Signal.
The same is true of Slack, which refuses to send personally identifiable data.
It doesn’t seem like either will stop using Giphy after Facebook’s acquisition, unless the social media giant forces the issue. We’d be especially surprised, however, if Twitter continues using Giphy without initiating a proxy protocol to mask users’ details. They are, after all, key rivals.
This puts Snapchat in a quandary: will they cooperate with a major competitor to keep delivering a popular image format to its youthful demographic? Will it find a similar service to replace Giphy? Or will it develop its own GIF library?
Should You Stop Using Giphy?
Some @Giphy history pic.twitter.com/SP9heBB18P
— Pasquale D'Silva (@pasql) May 18, 2020
This isn’t the first time Giphy has been involved in some controversy. Artists receive no fees whenever their work is used in GIFs. In fact, they don’t even get credit. Doing this would cause various practical issues, but you can’t blame creatives for feeling irked that their hard work isn’t acknowledged.
But Giphy isn’t all bad. It’s immensely popular because it boasts such an impressive library. It’s also trying to make the world better by, for instance, teaching people sign language—so whether you delete the app or not might be a tougher decision than you initially think.
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