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How Google and Facebook Collect Data about You and the Internet

Google and Facebook are probably the most widely used websites on the Internet. Around 70% of Internet users globally use Google as their default search engine, while Facebook already has 1.5 billion users. These two Internet giants collect enormous amounts of data every day, from many different sources. And it would be naïve on our part to think that they only make use of the data we deliberately provide them with. In reality, both Google and Facebook have their own user tracking and data collection systems that go beyond our public profiles.

Google’s Data Collection Tools

Google has penetrated every sphere of people’s online activity. Just a few services that are the most wide-spread:

  • Gmail – contains all the information about your contacts and the content of your letters. It is one of the most used email services, along with Yahoo and Hotmail.
  • Google Docs – contains tons of information about businesses and personal projects
  • Google search engine collects data from your search enquiries. It also knows, which search results you click on and how much time you spend on the search result web page.
  • Youtube – Google integration allows it to know which videos you watch and for how long, knowing a lot about your preferences.
  • Twitter – owned by Google, Twitter provides it with tons of user information

There are tons of other Google services, like Google Analytics, Google Finance, Google Apps, just to name a few. Have you ever thought about why all these services should be for free? The answer lies in the fact that the more services are free and of good quality, the more people across the globe will use them. And using a service means providing it with data. This way, Google possesses enormous layers of user data from every corner of the world.

How does it put it to use? In our digital era, information is power. First of all, Google makes a lot of money on advertising. In order for it to be effective, Google uses your search and other information to show you the ads that are most likely to work. The more Google knows about you, the more effective the advertising will be. Secondly, such data arrays allow Google to know about emerging market trends earlier than anybody else, with immense opportunities for competitive advantage. Thanks to this information, they can react to change much faster, and again, make more profit.

What Facebook Knows About You

With all the advantages global information can give you it would be unwise to think Facebook does not take advantage of the colossal amount of information it has access to.

Here are a few tools Facebook uses to track your activity:

  • Facebook cookies allow it to track your browser information, meaning everything you read here on the Internet, even when you left the Facebook page, but did not log out.
  • Facebook Connect is a plug-in that many websites use. It allows you to log in or register on that third-party website using your Facebook login and password. While this really undermines your account security, this also allows Facebook to track your third-party website activities.
  • Instagram is a great tool to track location, hobbies, activities and people involved.

Facebook tracks and makes use of all of your activity inside Facebook itself. Have you ever wondered how your news feed on Facebook works the way it does? Why the news from people you have been chatting with or whose pages you’ve been browsing are displayed first, while some people’s news are not displayed at all? And why you only see ads for your local products even though you have never indicated your place of residence in your Facebook profile?

Unfortunately, Facebook makes use of all the data about your activity on the website: who you chat with in private messages, what you write about and whose pages you prefer. Moreover, it also keeps track of how much time you spend on a certain post you are reading, and how much time it takes you to view news on certain topics. Just as in the case of Google, this information is used for profit-making purposes. The more Facebook knows about people of your age and interests, the more effective advertising could be. The power of Facebook in knowing all about us is virtually unlimited.

So, what can we do with this information? To be completely honest, nothing. We are at that point in time when quitting Facebook or Google would cut us off millions of opportunities, including staying in touch with our relatives, shopping for food or finding a job. Google and Facebook own the Earth, and there is not much you can do about it.

The only precaution could be to keep private things really private. Keep your accounts free of your private pictures or data you don’t want anybody to know about, and store commercial information about your business on some hardware in your closet. In a data-driven world like ours, it is impossible to avoid being part of the data collection pool, but it is after all a natural thing for the modern era.

Intelligent Debate: Data and Privacy

A political row is once again brewing over data and privacy. This week David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation published his report into the future of surveillance legislation.

In it he accepted that our intelligence agencies need to carry on being able to access data in bulk and he remained open to enhancing our ability to get more data if an operational and legal case can be made (which means revisiting the so-called “Snoopers’ Charter”). He accepted the need for the retention of powers introduced in emergency legislation last summer and suggested a number of reforms including a new commissioner to provide oversight on the entire system.

But potentially problematically he also proposes getting much more involvement from the judiciary in the process. This includes all authorisations for interception warrants (such as the content of emails) to be taken away from the Secretary of State and handed over to a judge. This is a big step and a potentially very unfortunate one. Politicians are able to assess the diplomatic landscape when approving warrants, and not just the legal technicalities; they may need to sign warrants in the middle of the night in an emergency; and are ultimately accountable in a way judges are not.

Of course this whole area is one over which there is a huge public interest. HJS has involved itself in that debate for two principle reasons. The first is that the debate needs to be far better informed than it currently is. As David Anderson himself said this week, an exceedingly small number of people actually know what they are talking about in this area. We would add, however, that almost everybody has an opinion. The gap between interest and knowledge in this area urgently needs to be addressed.

But the second reason is that the gap should be filled by people who are not hostile to the principles of intelligence and national security. In scoping out the ground for our recent report we discovered that almost all of the organisations and groups who have been most vociferous and most quoted in these matters are groups which (with the obvious exception of government agencies) have expressed a remarkable degree of hostility to matters which are absolutely essential for the proper running of a national security apparatus. These are groups and organisations who simultaneously wish to criminalise our intelligence services, make them so transparent they could not possibly operate and transfer almost all oversight powers from politicians to lawyers.

We believe that there is a public interest in the intelligence agencies being able to do their job of keeping the public safe and that politicians are best placed – and ultimately most accountable – to oversee that process. This is not, or should not be, a minority pursuit. It is, rather, a matter of the utmost public and political significance.


 

mendozahjsFROM THE DIRECTOR’S DESK

It’s often the case that you can assess whether you are hitting the mark, or not, as an organisation, by what your detractors say about you. If you have gotten them sufficiently riled that they feel the need to spend time and resources on combating your message, then it is a safe bet to assume you are succeeding. If they don’t even attempt to engage in intellectual debate and instead try to attack you as an organisation – playing the ‘”man” rather than the “ball” as it were – then you’ve pretty much hit the bullseye. Thus it proved this week with the convening of a conference at the University of Bath which spent a good portion of its time mentioning The Henry Jackson Society as standing in the way of its pro-Islamist and anti-Western agenda.

Featuring such luminaries as Norman Finkelstein and Max Blumenthal as its star attractions, HJS was honoured to receive a whole panel session dedicated to itself at the conference. Our session was headlined by the Director of the Cordoba Foundation – an innocent-sounding organisation until you realise that no less a person than British Prime Minister David Cameron has called it a “political front for the Muslim Brotherhood” – and the notorious former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, Director of pro-terrorist group CAGE. HJS has of course been instrumental in public education about CAGE’s pro-terrorist agenda in past months.

As I have written before, we wear criticism from sources such as these as a badge of pride. We are clearly doing something right if strenuous efforts are being made to oppose us by some of Britain’s most dangerous ideologues. I don’t think it is any coincidence that as our effectiveness in researching and highlighting public policy problems in the counter-terrorism and extremism areas has increased in recent years, so has the level of ire directed at us.

So I would like to conclude this week by thanking our staff for their dedication to their work and in ensuring that our message continues to get heard. Their jobs are not easy ones. But it is of the utmost importance that they are prepared to do them for the greater good.

Dr Alan Mendoza is Executive Director of The Henry Jackson Society

Follow Alan on Twitter: @AlanMendoza

RELATED ARTICLE: Max Blumenthal warmly endorses CAGE pro-jihad, pro-stoning UK Muslim leader

Common Core scandal: Medical and disciplinary reports on children hacked

As the Florida Department of Education, Governor Rick Scott, former Governor Jeb Bush and key Florida legislators move forward to implement Common Core State Standards in the sunshine state a database in Long Island’s Sachem School District is compromised.

Nancy Smith from Sunshine State News reports, “On Long Island earlier this month a hacker apparently was able to access records in the Sachem School District and leak personal student data to a web forum. The records included medical and disciplinary reports.” According to The Journal News, in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam counties, N.Y., the database uploads to Web Cloud run by inBloom, a nonprofit group funded by the Gates Foundation and supported by Amazon.

“Surprisingly, the breach didn’t come as a great shock to the community. Even before it transpired, parents and teachers were concerned about data collection and the potential of sharing it or stealing it,” writes Smith.  Also reported in The Journal News, “More than 20 districts in the Lower Hudson Valley have pulled out of New York’s participation in the federal Race to the Top initiative, hoping that doing so will allow them to withhold certain data. Since the state has said that this strategy will not work, districts are now writing to inBloom directly and requesting that their student records be deleted.”

Governor Scott has raised concerns about the data mining portion of Common Core but has not supported legislation to either delay or stop its implementation in Florida. Florida Representative Debbie Mayfield (R-FL District 54) has introduced HB 25 to delay implementation until the costs and impact of Common Core can be determined.

Dr. Karen Effrem, President of Education Liberty Watch.

Dr. Karen Effrem, President of Education Liberty Watch and a co-founder of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, and Randy Osborne, Director of Education for Heartland Research and the Florida Eagle Forum, did a Policy Analysis of Common Core in Florida. Effrem and Osborne state, “The Common Core standards, along with the aligned curriculum and the mining of nearly 400 data points reveal that the goal of the standards is not simply to improve academic achievement but also to instill federally determined attitudes and mindsets in students including political and religious beliefs. According to the US Department of Education, this will be carefully regulated through the extensive data-mining of both students and teachers using devices such as ‘facial expression cameras,’ ‘posture analysis seats,’ ‘a pressure mouse,’ and ‘wireless skin conductance sensors’ as well as the use of the actual assessments. The federal government asserts that to secure their definition of improving the quality of education, a student’s right to privacy may be sacrificed.”

Commenting on the Sachem School District data compromise Effrem states, “A number of standards will be used for the psychological training of children starting at a young age … One of the main goals for uniform national assessments is for the federal government to have access to highly personal individual student data. It isn’t just teachers and school officials who can request and get students’ records. It’s also ‘a contractor, consultant, volunteer, or other party to whom an agency or institution has outsourced institutional services or functions … Common Core completely strips the child of privacy.”

Dr. Effrem writes, “The utter failure of proponents of Common Core to make rational arguments about this imposed system of inferior, psychosocial workforce training standards, national tests and data collection has stimulated them to lash out to mock and marginalize anyone who opposes it. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has joined former Governor Jeb Bush and Senate President Don Gaetz in now bipartisan sneering derision of parental and citizen concerns. Duncan created a firestorm on Friday (11/15) with his mocking, racist attack on mothers that oppose Common Core: ‘It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary. You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.'” Duncan has since issued an apology for his remarks.

A new Facebook group, Moms Against Duncan (MAD), has almost 1600 members since then and the comments on Twitter have been overwhelmingly critical. Conservative columnists and liberal moms have joined together in righteous anger against these thoughtless remarks.

History tells us the larger the Common Core database becomes the more likely it will be target by those who would do children harm. Will Governor Scott and the proponents of Common Core listen to moms and take heed? Time will tell.

RELATED DOCUMENTS:

Comments on the Psychological and Developmental Aspects of the Florida’s Common Core Standards by Dr. Karen Effrem – Download PDF

Comments on Florida ELA Common Core Standards by Dr. Sandra Stotsky – Download PDF

Comments on FL Math Common Core Standards by Ze’ev Wurman – Download PDF

Florida parents cannot “opt out” of Common Core data mining

Florida Governor Rick Scott has voiced concern about the student data mining component of Common Core State Standards. When asked if he supported the data mining aspect of Common Core, Scott answered “no” to the question. Public hearings were held this week across Florida to hear the concerns with Common Core by teachers, parents and concerned citizens.

According to Diane Kepus, The National Education Data Model (NEDM), available online, lists hundreds of data points considered indispensable to the nationalized student tracking racket. These include:

  • “Bus Stop Arrival Time” and “Bus Stop Description”
  • “Dwelling arrangement”
  • “Diseases, Illnesses and Other Health Conditions”
  • “Religious Affiliation”
  • “Telephone Number Type” and “Telephone Status”

It now appears that Florida is one of the states that, according to the Florida Department of Education, parents cannot “opt out” of providing private information to the companies running the data mining system. A parent provided the below letter reply to the possibility to “opt out” for their child.

red-and-yellow-florida-letter

For a larger view click on the image.

The What is Common Core blog states, “So, [Andre Smith] the ‘Bureau Chief’ of the PK20 Florida Data Warehouse informed the Florida parent that he was ‘unable to identify opt out provisions to PK2O Education Data Warehouse.’ That’s right: unable to identify an opt out provision. Parents like me are unable to identify any constitutional provision whereby parents might be ethically overridden so that a federal-state partnership could then track personally identifiable information about our children without our parental consent in a federally promoted and funded State Longitudinal Database System!”

According to the Florida Department of Education PK20 Florida Data Warehouse website, “The mission of the Florida K-20 Education Data Warehouse (EDW) is to provide stakeholders in public education-including, but not limited to, administrators, educators, parents, students, state leadership, and professional organizations-with the capability of receiving timely, efficient, consistent responses to inquiries into Florida’s Kindergarten through University education.”

The Chairman of the US House Education Committee Representative John Kline in letter dated February 2010 to Arne Duncan stated his concerns and dismay that grant awards were to be based “in part on the willingness of the states to expand their statewide longitudinal data systems that would include a broad swath of student information”. Kline quotes Duncan as stating data collection was part of the “cradle to career agenda”.

The following outlines the Common Core data requirements and uses:

Click on image for a larger view.