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Social media research threatened by new data limitations

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The EU Digital Services Act, which came into effect in August 2023, will provide vetted researchers with access to large online platforms | Photo: Robin Worral

Academics around the world have warned of a threat to scientific research as major social media platforms limit access to user data.

Over the course of 2023, numerous social media platforms including X (formerly known as Twitter), TikTok, and Reddit made substantial changes to their Application Programming Interfaces, known as APIs.

Researchers have routinely tapped APIs for large-scale data on social media users into behavioural patterns at individual, group, and population levels. This work has included predicting where conflict may occur and allocating disaster aid; and understanding the impacts of online polarization or misinformation on voting patterns.

However, the changes to APIs have led to data access being drastically reduced, or becoming more costly due to increased charges, meaning that this kind of research is now much harder to conduct. It also inadvertently impacts app developers who have built their service on this source of information.

A new study outlining the implications of changes to how data is extracted and shared within and across social media platforms has been published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Dr Dirk van der Linden from Northumbria’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences was one of the contributors to the study. Dr van der Linden is part of Northumbria’s Social Computing (NorSC) group, which studies social technology and the idea that designing it requires critically understanding the people that use it, the ways in which they live and interact with one another, and the impacts that it can have on our behaviours and interactions with the world.

“It is ever more important to be able to study what is happening on social media networks, as so much of our lives are lived online”, says van der Linden. “It’s already complicated for scientists to deal with an increasingly fragmented landscape of different social media networks in use today, where much of the data is inherently ephemeral. But when the networks controlling this data further complicate matters with more restrictive terms and conditions, we risk running into situations where research skirts the borders of what is ethical, or worse (depending on your point of view), not done at all.”

The research team on the study, which was led by the University of Bath, said that the changes are adversely affecting academics who want to study the impact of social media on mental health, misinformation, political views and more.

“It’s critical that research on people and society can access these large-scale data sets as there can be policy implications and far-reaching consequences if we get it wrong,” said Dr Brit Davidson, from the University of Bath’s School of Management.

“Over time, we have many cases of where the lack of open science (sharing data, analysis, materials) impacts our ability to verify and check for science credibility. We’ve seen science discredited, which causes concern as to whether work can be reproduced or replicated.”

However, there are instances where changes to API access is necessary. For example, the Cambridge Analytica Scandal in 2018 led social media platforms to implement strict measures to prevent third-party users from gaining access to personal data without consent. They then enabled users to revoke app permissions, which gave users more control over their data to protect user privacy.

The EU Digital Services Act, which came into effect in August 2023, aims to provide vetted researchers with access to ‘very large online platforms’, with similar updates to GDPR Article 40. However, researchers are still waiting to hear more about what vetting means in practice and the conditions of using the data.

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How to use Lenses in Skype

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How to use Lenses in Skype
Snapchat is bringing Lenses to more than 80 million monthly active Skype users

Snapchat is bringing Lenses to more than 80 million monthly active Skype users.

The announcement, made in June, will allow Skype regular users to add Lenses to their conversations with friends and family. Dozens of Lenses are currently available to choose from, including glitter beards, disco glasses, and raining hearts.

Lenses have been created through Snapchat AR authoring tool, Lens Studio, and made available on Skype through our Camera Kit SDK, which allows partners to distribute Lenses in their own apps and websites. Lens Studio and Camera Kit also power AR experiences in Microsoft Teams, SwiftKey, and Microsoft Flip.

How to use Lenses in Skype

1. Open the Skype app on your Android or iOS device. Select a contact you’d like to chat with or open an existing conversation. Click the camera icon on the bottom right of your screen.

2. Select the smiling face icon to the right of the capture button to see all the fun Lenses available in Skype.

3. Once you’ve found one you want to use, click the check mark on the bottom right of the screen. Press and hold the capture button to record a video of yourself using the Lens. Once recorded, hit the image of your recording to review and make any edits you’d like to your video.

4. If you’re happy with what’s recorded, select the send icon on the bottom right of the screen (if you’re not, you can do another take and record again!).

5. Your video will appear in the chat. Hit the send button and your video with a Lens will be on its way to your contact

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How to use AI to scale your business

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AI can be utilised by all types of companies, from small startups to established firms. | Photo: Jason Goodman

The moment you decide to scale your business is incredibly exciting. Maybe you’ve got a great idea for a new sector or product you want to bring to your existing customer base. Or, you want to take your business from a part-time endeavour and make it your full-time livelihood. Regardless of your reason for deciding to scale up, it’s a significant commitment. As a result, you may be struggling to find the time to get started.

Taking the next step in your business can often feel like you’re venturing out of your comfort zone, but modern technology solutions are on hand to help. Artificial intelligence (AI) is breaking down barriers for entrepreneurs and big business owners alike, allowing everyone to benefit from time management, invoicing and creative tools that previously may have required another hire within the team. That’s not to say that AI can replace humans; but for those at the start of their scaling journey, it can represent a smaller financial commitment before taking the plunge and hiring a full-time expert or assistant. Plus, it can speed up many repetitive or data-heavy tasks.

In this post, we explore four ways AI can help you to take your business to the next level.

Find more leads to target

Unless you’ve got an inbox full of customers just waiting for you to release new products or services, the chances are that you’ll need to be proactive when it comes to getting new leads and converting those into sales. Trawling the internet to find stockists, brands who might want to work with you or even just looking through your own database of people who have purchased something previously is extremely time consuming.

AI can take on these tasks for you, meaning that you simply have to review the information and then decide on whether to get in touch with these contacts personally. Additionally, it can help you with creating customer personas and gathering audience insights, hopefully increasing your chances of success once you do pitch.

Increase your marketing capacity

Part of running a successful business is being known and seen in the marketplace, allowing you to remain competitive. In the modern world, that means you need to cover a huge variety of platforms, each with their own unique content strategy. Considering that includes everything from social media to email newsletters, that gives you a lot to do.

AI can help by creating outlines for emails or posts that you can then review and add your personal touch to, significantly reducing the time you need to spend on this task. Or, it can take content you’ve already rewritten and repurpose it for a different platform and audience, allowing you to extend your reach with minimal effort.

Automate and track your finances

Hopefully, as you increase your offering, your number of sales will also increase – but with that comes a rise in the number of invoices you need to create. Financial tasks are one of the areas where AI can be invaluable, as it’s a data-oriented process, which is where this technology tends to excel.

Setting up your business on a platform that works with AI can allow you to automatically generate invoices when a certain trigger is hit – for example, the day after you’ve delivered a service for a client. Plus, it can recognise when invoices haven’t been paid, sending the customer a reminder that their bill is due.

From an accounting perspective, AI can track and categorise your expenses and income. Especially when you take on more employees, this can be incredibly useful, saving you hours of time and hassle when it comes to closing the month.

Gain key data insights

Making the right decisions about which direction to take your business in can be hard. You may have a gut feeling about which markets to target or products to create, but without evidence, it can be difficult to take the risk and put money behind this decision.

AI can help you understand the trends that are happening in your industry, as well as forecasting the impact certain decisions will have on your business. Whilst things can always change, having some data-driven insights into what your future might look like can help you understand how it might be best to progress.

Supercharge your business

AI is a tool that can be utilised by all types of companies, from small startups to established firms. Rather than looking to replace human input, AI can act as a helpful assistant, reducing the financial and time risk associated with scaling.

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Names and physical addresses of 49 Million Dell users leaked

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The data reportedly encompasses information on systems purchased from Dell between 2017 and 2024

This week, US technology company Dell notified customers about a data breach involving customers’ names and physical addresses. While Dell states that the accessed database contained limited types of customer information related to purchases from the brand and believes there is not a significant risk to its customers given the type of information involved, the company acknowledged yesterday (May 9) that the data accessed via its portal also includes hardware and order information, such as service tag, item description, date of order, and related warranty information. According to Dell, the information involved does not include financial or payment information.

Upon identifying the incident, the American company founded in 1984 says that it has “promptly implemented our incident response procedures, began investigating, took steps to contain the incident and notified law enforcement”. Dell has also engaged a third-party forensics firm to investigate this incident.

On April 29th, the tech website Daily Dark Web published an article disclosing that a hacker was selling access to a database that allegedly contains 49 million Dell customer records. The data reportedly encompasses information on systems purchased from Dell between 2017 and 2024, and the stolen information would include full names and addresses.

Dell suggested customers to check a page with tips to help avoid tech support phone scams

What to do if you have been affected by Dell’s data breach

In an email sent to its customers on Thursday (May 9th), Dell informed them that an internal investigation indicated their information was accessed during the incident. However, the company stated that it doesn’t ‘believe there is significant risk given the limited information impacted.

You read it correctly: Dell doesn’t believe that attackers gaining unauthorized access to 49 million users’ names and physical addresses, leaked due to a data breach, poses a significant risk. The company signed off the warning email suggesting that people “should always keep in mind these tips to help avoid tech support phone scams. If you notice any suspicious activity related to your Dell accounts or purchases, please immediately report concerns to security@dell.com.”

The linked blog page, posted in 2018, offers tips such as ‘hang up immediately if you receive a suspicious call’ and ‘hang up if an unsolicited caller pressures you to act quickly.’ However, it is unclear why Dell is informing people about phone scams, as the company states that the recent data breach, which involved the leak of physical addresses of 49 million Dell users, did not include email addresses or telephone numbers.

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