We’re constantly getting warnings about giving out our personal data. Many of the warnings emanate from big data companies like Microsoft, Google, and, ironically, Facebook. We’re warned to guard against phishing emails, downloading files, and sharing details that might be useful for hackers.
These companies even provide us with a range of software to use to protect ourselves. They advise us to make use of email-scanning programs and other anti-phishing measures.
Which, when you think about it, is pretty ironic considering the amount of information that the giants like Google, Facebook, and so on already keep on us. You might think that your partner knows you best. You’re probably wrong.
Google knows what sites you like to visit, what topics you’ve been researching, and a lot more besides because they track your every move. Do they listen in to your conversations online? We’re told not, but how do we know for sure?
Big Data Companies Have a Bad History
In fact, if history is anything to go by, we can’t always take these big companies at their word. Facebook has been embroiled in a lot of data scandals over the last few years. Most concerningly was a story broken by TechCrunch where it came out that Facebook had been paying users to download their research app onto their phones.
This app would check all the data on the phone – the websites you visited, the purchases you made, and so on. For around $20, you were giving Facebook free license to root around on your phone. The company defended their actions by saying that they were upfront about what the app would do, but you have to wonder if users really understood the extent of what they were getting into.
They’ve since withdrawn the app, but apparently, they even listened in to Whatsapp conversations.
Scandals and big data companies seem to go hand in hand. Concerningly for clients, it would seem that there’s an attitude to ask forgiveness instead of permission. This also points to the fact that the companies often act in an immoral way, and then deal with the fallout when they get caught.
You Have No Idea How Your Data is Tracked and Used
As bad as the Facebook scandal revealed by TechCrunch was, Facebook did have a point. They were upfront about their intentions. The world’s favorite search engine, on the other hand, is not quite as upfront.
They track your movements online by default. They say it’s so that they can improve your search results and ensure that you get targeted advertising that you’re interested in. Here’s the thing, though, there’s no option to opt-out. Just by using Google, you’re tacitly agreeing that they can track your every movement.
And, while they say that they’re using the information to improve your user experience, that’s not entirely true. Why would they need to know what you do on Facebook if that was the case? And yet, run a search for a particular product on Amazon, and you’ll see ads for similar products from Amazon showing up in social media feeds banner ads, and so on.
The fact is that big data is big business. This information is packaged and sold on to market research companies. It’s used to provide you with advertising that you’re most likely to be interested in. So, while we’re out there guarding against phishers looking for a few files of information, the real threat is a lot more insidious.
What the big companies do is not considered technically illegal, but amounts to the same thing – the theft and misuse of your data. And, if that’s not frightening enough, what happens if one of these companies gets hacked?
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