Most of us don’t realise we are being watched. Every minute of the day.
From the minute you buy a smartphone, you are being followed. If you type something in your browser, you are being followed. Same goes if you don’t even use a smartphone or pc. Think about camera’s in big city’s or even an airport if you are going on vacation.
What kind of data do they have?
Before we go any further, you have to realise that data kept by companies or organisations is defined as data points. And there are a LOT of datapoints each individual can have. To give you an idea, each individual person on Facebook can have up to 52 000 data points. Yes, 52 000 data points. Let that sink in for a moment.
What is a data point?
Hang on, what is a data point? A data point is every unique piece of information that describes a person or thing.
Now 52 000 data points me seem like a lot to describe a person, however it’s not. Think about it for a moment, what kinds of data points could, for example Facebook, Apple, Huawei or Google and many others, store in their servers about you? Here’s a non limitative (of course) list of examples:
- First name
- Last name
- E-mail address
- Postal code
- Home town
- Sexual preference
- Current location
- Favourite locations
- Facial recognition
- Places you’ve visited
- Ratings (in general, for example, a movie you’ve rated)
- Political preference
- The calls you make with your phone (for example voice chat on Facebook)
- Chat history
- Search history
Hang on, how they get these data points?
They get most information from you because you give it yourself. Some are more self explanatory then others in this list. Your first and last name are pretty obvious. You fill in your name on every account. Same goes for you e-mail address, age, gender and so on. However, certain things in the list above are not that simple and are obtained by a process called data mining.
Let’s take political preference. You might say you never have been asked to fill this in when you create an account. There are algorithms that can find this out on their own. If you like, or perhaps even share, certain things on Facebook, an algorithm that runs in the background can and will find out on its own.
A good example of this would be the campaigns organised by Cambridge Analytica. If you don’t really know this company or haven’t got a good idea what these guys did, then please, read this.
In short, it’s a company that not only used and misused data during elections in several countries, but also duped companies into believing that they used people’s data for academic uses. They even took data of 87 million users without asking their permission. This company has been disbanded for some time now. However, many others arose to do the same things they did.
There are many other ways to get information about you. Think about web trackers, extensions in web browsers and many other. One is specific I would like to draw your attention to, are the famous voice activated devices such as the Alexa devices or the Siri devices. Recently they crossed the media with the fact that these devices actually listen in on the conversations you have at home. So, you are actually, without you even knowing, giving your personal data on a silver platter.
What is my personal data used for?
Plain and simple in three words. Money, power and research.
Let’s start with the first one. Money. Your personal data, and mine, are being sold to the highest bidder. Why? Because with your data a number of things can be achieved.
With the help of web trackers, many including Facebook and Google, can follow your behaviour on the web. What site you visited, what purchases you made, location and many other. Did you ever buy something, or even looked at something, in an online store and have it thrown in your face on every site you look through adds? That’s a tracker doing its job.
With this information you can start a thing called direct marketing. With direct marketing you will find adds like: “Hey, you’ve been looking for this certain item on the internet. I’m selling that very item on my webstore. Just click here!”. And it doesn’t stop there. By you search history algorithms may find products you might need and/or buy in the future.
For the second one, power, I want to redirect your attention on companies like Cambridge Analytica.
With the data mining they did and with the data they received from other companies, they achieved in making campaigns for clients, to tip the scales in the favour of that client. They did this with campaigns that influenced people to change their opinion or even influence people to do or not do things.
You might think this is some kind of conspiracy plot, but the people of Cambridge Analytica did achieve this. If you don’t believe me or if you want more information, check this article on the BBC website. If you’re not much of a reader, there is also a report on Netflix. It’s called “The Great Hack”.
Not all data is used for malicious, dark and dubious purposes. It’s also used for things like research. Your data can be used unanimously for research about worldwide web usage, catching on social trends and many other.
Internet, totally free to use. Or is it?
Think about it for a minute. Facebook and Google are free right? Everybody uses these services free of charge. You don’t need a masters degree of economics to realise that you need an income to make it even to the end of the month, let alone the year.
So how to they get an income? Simple, they use your data. They literally sell your identity. The buyers? Usually marketing companies for obvious reasons. You liked a page on Facebook about burgers? Hang on to your panties, here come the McDonalds and Burger King adds.
Just an FYI: the actual price of your profile on Facebook. €11 or about $12. Every piece of data, every piece of your identity that makes you, you, are being sold for that price.
As I dug deeper into this topic, I realised that 1984 might not be far off.
Nobody knows the actual reach of the reach of companies like Facebook, Google or many others, we need to realise that our data is our identity. Because we are giving our data away for free, we need to realise that we are actually not the customer, we are the product. And all of that because we want to use the internet for free.
What about you? Would you rather pay for online services and keep your identity, or sell it and use a lot of services for free?