Can you trust technology companies with your private data?

Can you trust technology companies with your private data?

Over the past few weeks we have had a onslaught of big tech companies getting hacked. Facebook and Google both announcing recent personal data exposed by hackers that have exploited the websites that we entrust with all our personal data. Some 40 Million accounts exposed on Facebook, then a week later another 14 million having additional data leaked such as location data.

Technology has helped improve our lives with mobile phones that allow us to access any information at any time. We can communicate with friends and family for free using Whatsapp, Snapchat or share our lives through photos on Instagram. But who holds all that private data? Is it at risk? How can I get access to the data the big companies have on me?

The beginning

In the early days it was cool for us to all join social networks and share everything about out lives with friends and family, adding in data of jobs, locations we visited, holidays all of which now is seemingly naive of us. As we built up our profiles adding more information about us, our family and our habits the big companies sat back and let all the data role in. As a user of these platforms we found it easier to share life events and keep in touch with family. Little did we know all the data we thought to be so innocent to back fire on us and be sold to other companies. Our data is now used against us with targeted advertising campaigns aimed directly at us based on our habits, likes and interests.

 Tailored Ads

What we know today is that big companies sell our personal data to help tailor advertising directly to us based on years of data collection. Never has this been more rife than going to Amazon to look for an item to then visit another website and see banner adverts promoting the exact product we had just searched for. They do this with data collected for every item you search or searched for and assign that to your account in a database that you had no idea existed that collects all your habits. Next time you visit a website that shows an advert that could be related to an interest you may find an advert that was hand picked for you based on your previous search for a product.

Clearly big companies track our every online decision we make from Google searches, Youtube videos we watch to purchases we make online. How have we become such a pawn in the game on virtual data currency? Advertising allows the small people to make a living by hosting adverts on their blog or website to help subside their own little venture and to do so requires adding in code that allows an advert to be displayed, but its not just retrieving data, It’s sending it too. Now they know that you have visited that website the advert was on and it will be added to your ever growing database as a potential interest or more.

Been to a website that has a Facebook Like button or share on social website X? To use most of these the website owner has to add in specific API details to set these up which as you may have now guessed, is a way of tracking you. Facebook got in to trouble for this a few years back so they released a new product called Facebook Pixel which allows website owners to re-target you on Facebook with Adverts if they know you have been to a website of interest.

Oh and so you know, Facebook know what ‘adult’ sites you visit too as most have ‘share to social’ buttons, but seriously who share adult material on a public profile? This brings me to your private messages.

Private messages

You think you private data and messages are kept away from prying eyes? A lot of apps now make it clear that your data in end-to-end encrypted which means that your data cannot be seen by anyone else. But before this happened your data was exposed to sniffing, a technique used to read your personal messages. Not to mention that the databases this information was stored in could be looked at and your messages read too.

Both Instagram and Whatsapp are owned by Facebook and they all keep tabs of everything associated with you from Instagram likes and searches to Facebook messages all are kept in central databases, possibly to be used at some point to expose more data about you to paying advertisers.

Now, I am going to tell you a little story of when I received my new Phone. I installed Instagram and did the basic set up and although I don’t share to my personal account I have my data collected so they can recommend posts to look at. Mostly these posts are based on tech, fitness or geek stuff. Once, after a conversation I had with a friend of none specific topic (totally unrelated to my usual suggestions) I started seeing images in the suggestion based on the topic we had talked about! This was a physical chat face to face. Coincidence it could totally be one of those random events. But the next made it really strange, I saved a photo from 9GAG of a very expensive and fast car and kept it in my photos (never uploaded or allowed Instagram access to my photos at that time). My suggestions/ recommendations in the search started to show Cars… Now you may think I am crazy and this is some sort or conspiracy theory and you’d be right, but two occasions that this strange encounter happened had me wondering are they listening and viewing my private data to help tailor their searches?

Now with the introduction of Google Home, Facebook Portal and Amazon Echo being installed in homes around the World, our private space is being invaded even more. Mobile devices have already been exposed and data stolen and used and can record conversations (which apparently doesn’t happen, but I believe it does) but the biggest worry for most is the amount of data Facebook can collect with a whole view of your living room. That data could expose your gaming habits, Xbox or Playstation, tailor gaming ads for the latest games to you rather than show both console types.

But the biggest concern is hackers gaining access to your Portal camera or equivalent, data feeds could be sold on the dark web to watch you while you think no one is watching! Dark I know. Back to the main topic.

Is your data safe? the real answer is no, it has not been private or safe for many years but each day we add more and more to our hidden data collection with internet searches, app usage and places we visit. But their is little that can be done besides going off gird. Living in a log cabin with not electrical devices to collect your data, but what kind of World would that be for those who use technology to keep connected?

Smart phones play a huge role in our daily lives and I have seen some people moving back to the ‘dumb phones’. Which you might recall as the flip phones and brick like design. Use SMS, but that is still though a network owned by a big Corporation like Virgin or EE (in the UK).

In Europe the law changed about data collection known as GDPR, it was a big deal or so we thought. It meant every website that collected data had to tell you as the user what data is collected, how long for and what the data is for (advertising is the most common). But I find myself caring less about heading to the privacy policy page to read what data is being collected, most of us just click the ‘accept’ button for cookies without really reading what is being tracked. That data is then passed back to someone like Google and their Analytics system.

The sad truth is, your private data, habits, likes and hobbies are worth money to someone and for that reason your data will hold value. It’s these companies objective to get as much of that data as possible so they can earn more money from you.

This is my own opinion on the matter of data collection and it’s worth checking out what data Facebook holds on you.