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Big corporations are taking over the world, but they’re doing it in ways that even the biggest black marketers and technology skeptics didn’t predict. Facebook, Google, or Microsoft are eavesdropping; they know everything about us, and what do they do about it?
Now we can get started. You’re sitting having a beer with friends, talking about how “never again will a cigarette be so tasty, and vodka – so cold and nutritious,” and you mention out loud the name of one of the above. Let’s assume that it will be “Ląża” (if someone paid me to advertise, I would mention some name here too, but for free, what will I do). The next day, you browse on Instagram through the photos where you were tagged, and there, in the thicket of images that should never have seen the light of day, stands like a bull – an advertisement for Lezha. Sound familiar? It probably does. And most likely not a coincidence.
All the devices on which you connect to the Internet collect information about you. The reason? So-called continuous “service enhancement.” In practice, this mainly means “improving” advertising. Big corporations like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft (but not only) assume that you care about the most personalized ads possible. Because if someone is a vegan, why should they see sponsored posts from a pate manufacturer every day? Well, and agree.
The reasoning is this: you get a free service (e.g., a search engine or a social network) that has to make money for itself somehow – there’s good money to be made from ads – the more personalized the ads, the more effective = much, much money. So the service is not free. Personalization is based on user data. You pay for everything with your privacy.
What does Facebook know about you?
Where does Facebook get the data it needs to display ads:
- from your and your friend’s activity on Facebook and on related products and businesses (Instagram, etc.),
- from locations and check-in locations,
- from advertisers – when you give your contact information to sign up for newsletters, make purchases, register as customers, and get on “the list.” If the same data appears on Facebook, based on your preferences, the algorithm matches you with appropriate advertising,
- from sites and applications that use Facebook’s business tools – the information can even be about what you just added to your shopping cart, and what you bought.
Some of you will think: “oh jeez, I gave my phone number, big deal”. So to start with, I will invite you here – to your advertising preferences. In the individual tabs, review what Facebook knows about you and your interests (and, further, who has used this knowledge recently). As you analyze the results, you will notice that they are automatically generated based on what you “like,” where you are on a daily basis, and what you browse with varying results. I, for example, am supposedly interested in the city of Janina – greetings from this place, Janina Daily. In the tabs below: “Your Information” and “Ad Settings” you can see what flies to advertisers. And from advertisers – because they also pass information about you to Facebook. In the same place, you can disable these sources, but this will not make it so that data will not continue to be collected from somewhere else (which Facebook informs you about).
In January, the Pew Research Center conducted a study on a representative group of nearly 1,000 Americans. The questions they were asked were specifically about the lists of preferences created by Facebook. Seventy-four percent were unaware that such lists even existed. Furthermore, 51% felt uncomfortable about this fact, and 27% said that the preferences were not accurate or did not match their interests at all. Correspondingly, 12% knew, 36% felt comfortable, and 27% rated the preferences as consistent with reality.
What can (and most likely does) Facebook know about you? What gender you are, how old you are, where you are and have been. What your educational background is, what your sexual orientation is, whether you are in a relationship, what religion you follow (if you follow one), what race you are, what your political and worldview beliefs are, where you study or work, who your friends are (whether Facebook owns your contacts you can check here) and who you were with at the same time, in the same place. It knows what kind of phone, computer, or laptop you have. If you’ve made payments through Facebook, it also stores information about the transaction. It knows if you’re looking for an apartment, want to lose weight, or are trying for a baby. Even if it doesn’t know this from you, such data is sent to it by other apps on your phone (such as sales or sports). Facebook maintains, however, that it deletes extremely sensitive information.
It may surprise you to learn that Mark Zuckerberg denies that FB eavesdrops on its users. How, then, does he explain “Lying”? According to him, if you talk about your preferences with others, you’ve certainly also already searched for them online. And if you are 100% sure that the matter has not gone beyond conversation? Turns out it must have been a coincidence, magic, or you simply forgot something. Or, and this is just a hypothesis, you were listened to by other apps. Or maybe Facebook, after all. Zuckerberg will say it’s a conspiracy theory. And I’ll say it’s the result of a lack of trust.
The Silicon Valley giant doesn’t have it easy with privacy. Or maybe it does, but it’s a bumpy road like the Polish asphalt in the 1990s. For in the context of Facebook, we’ve already heard about the sale of data, unlawful processing, failure to secure data (including passwords), sharing data for political and morally questionable purposes, and so on and so forth. Oh, and I’d forgotten, of course, we also wrote about the affair of eavesdropping on users’ voice calls. Oops?
You’ll ask what happens once you’ve disconnected all these sources of data sharing. Well, instead of your favorite shoes, games, books, or jade face rollers, you will most likely see something similar, whatever it is:
In other words, you will rely on chance.
In other words, you rely on chance. To satisfy your curiosity, you can check what Facebook “has” on you and download your information by going into settings and then into “Your Facebook information” (you’ll see some of it, without the download, here). In the same place, you can also use a more radical solution and delete your account (and, with it, all your information). If you decide to take this step, remember that this is absolutely not the end. Facebook also owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, among others. And everything you read above applies to these apps as well. And even more, if you combine Messenger with text messages and calls, Zuckerberg is probably browsing them for his pillow. This is a joke, of course. But Facebook seriously has access to them.
Does Google eavesdrop, read emails, and check search history?
What does Google “analyze”:
- Internet and app activity
- Activity on youtube
- Calendar and contacts
- Assistant recordings
The mechanism works in virtually the same way as with Facebook. Except that Google offers other services (let’s drop a veil of silence on Google+) – search, maps, email, YouTube, and Android. Mainly. So the data collected serves other purposes, but they are only side purposes. And the main purpose is…? Well, who can guess? Bravo! Money.
That is, we are getting into the subject of advertising again. The information gained is used, for example, to position search results. If you’re a fan of British progressive rock and fanatically chug it on Spotify for days, then when you type “concert Krakow 2019” into Google, you should see a Deep Purple concert at the Tauron Arena at the very top. But that’s not the case because even Google sometimes fails. Instead, you’ll read that Ariana Grande has canceled the show. Well. How about an easier example: you type in the name of your favorite clothing store. You enter the result and immediately land in the section assigned to your gender. It works every time.
Access to information from emails, search and phone (Android users) gives Google a pretty decent combo for personalizing ads. It collects your information on web and app activity, location, contacts, calendars, and recordings – if you use Assistant, anything you say after “OK, Google” will be recorded and saved. It’s worth noting that due to controversy (there have been times when the Assistant listened even when no one called it), the option will be discontinued for three months – thanks to the European Union. You can also disable most of the accesses mentioned above in the settings o, here.
If you have never blocked Google’s location processing, then even if you only turned it on occasionally on your phone, your whereabouts were recorded. Every single day you can view your history on Timeline, here.
As in the case of Facebook, Google assigns you preferences based on data collected from the services (mainly applications and browsing data). Also, in this case, you can remove them if, for example, they are not true, or you simply do not want to receive ads related to them. These are age, gender, location, interests, and hobbies. It is also knowledge about what sports you practice and whether you travel by public transport, taxi or your own car.
What have you recently wanted to buy online, and where? What do you watch most willingly, what news interests you the most, and what games do you play most often? Are you parents or in a relationship, and even what kind of pet do you have (if you have one)? You can check what your advertiser profile looks like here. If you change your data and personalization settings (e.g., turn off location recording and recording), the settings will also be active on your Android phones (Settings – Google – Google Account – Privacy and personalization).
If you use Gmail, its content also helps advertisers. There is a fairly widespread belief that emails are read. Representatives of the giant see it like this:
“The practice of automated content processing has sparked speculation that Google is “reading” your emails. We want to be absolutely clear: no one at Google reads your Gmail, except in very exceptional cases, when you ask us and give us permission or when we are forced to do so for security reasons, such as bug research or cracking security.”
All clear. No one reads the emails personally, but their content is used for marketing purposes – if, for example, you receive an order confirmation from the store for a 1:1 replica of the Iron Throne, Google will start showing you related products. For example, Drogon 1:1 replica. Here you will see what purchases have been registered.
If you think that only Facebook has data protection problems – you are wrong. For example, the aforementioned Google+ ceased its operation for individuals after the company hid from users for six months a serious bug that put the personal data of half a million people at risk. The vulnerability in security was probably not exploited by anyone, but the scandal became the perfect excuse to end the service’s life.
Remember that Google also gives you the option to download a copy of the data it has collected about you.
Windows and Xbox listen too? What data do they send to Microsoft?
What Microsoft “analyzes”:
- Internet activity and search history
- history of film and music “conquests.”
- information from the application
- voice interactions
Finally, there will be more about Microsoft. To the point: You can download the archive of your data. In it, you will find browsing and search history, location, history of watched movies and listened to music, data collected from applications and services, and “voice interactions.” You can clean it all. Be warned – Microsoft knows where you are sitting now if you use its services.
This particular corporation seems uninteresting. This is partly because Nokia and later Microsoft Phone (forever in my heart) failed miserably. In addition, hardly anyone uses the Bing search engine, which helps the giant create a list of your advertising preferences.
And then, Xbox and Skype with Cortana enter the scene. If you read our news carefully, you probably already know what will be about now. When a whistleblower user went to press with information that Xbox had been recording its users for years and then sending the records to third parties for analysis, a representative of the unit assured them that they did, and they were never very secretive about it, and they had its consent. Microsoft’s spokesman, probably wanting to soften the message, added that, in fact, they have already stopped listening to the recordings and do not plan to return to them. This was, of course, done to improve the service. By entering here, you can meet Microsoft and disable all access to voice information. Yes, just in case.
Similar revelations concerned Cortana and Skype. However, it seems that when it comes to Bill Gates, you no longer have to worry about wiretapping. i.e., it’s best to stay vigilant, but you’re 50% safe now. In light of the general public condemnation of such practices, it is surprising that corporations do not learn the lessons, and we continue to learn of more cases – most recently, Apple recorded conversations of users with Siri.
What would you do if someone came up to you on the street and asked, “hey, are you vegan? Do you eat meat?”, “do you believe in God or not?” or … “which day of your cycle is it because according to my observations, you want to try for a child?”. At best, you would probably ignore such a delinquent or call the police. Some of you would probably answer voluntarily. Worst case scenario, tell yourself. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and other companies that collect your data will not even ask you about it. They will follow you and check what you buy in the store, whether you read the Bible and other religious content, or whether you visit temples. They’ll also read what you’re saving in your health-related apps, including whether today is your best chance of becoming a parent. They’ll just get you into bed.
If you own the Internet, you most likely do not “own” privacy. But what choice do we really have? Either self-exclude yourself technologically, clean and delete all accounts, throw away computers, buy a typewriter and get yourself an Internet-free brick, or don’t worry about anything and give away your data left and right. As it usually happens in such situations – it’s best to look for a golden mean. And on reflection, I come to the conclusion that it is the principle of limited trust. It may sound cliché, but you just have to be careful.
Fortunately, more and more depends on you and what you agree to. This is also due to the GDPR, which forced service providers to obtain the user’s consent to data processing. Awareness is also growing – various applications will make your life easier in many ways, but by entering in the sports app what and how much you exercised today and what mood you had that day, remember that this information is not only for you.
Meanwhile, in May, Mark Zuckerberg said that the future is private. Yes, sure.
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