Every step we take online is monitored and recorded by advertisers or other trackers.
Thanks to the constant digital technology development we are being watched more than ever before. Every web page you visit, every click or share is carefully monitored, recorded and stored. And while separate parts of this data are worth almost nothing, when aggregated, analyzed and interpreted, they can be successfully used by advertisers to target potential customers with ads. But, even more importantly, this massive amount of information, called Big Data, can become a powerful manipulation tool, strong enough to shape our behaviors and influence public opinions.
There is no need to dig deep for examples, as the recent Observer’s discovery clearly lays out the danger our privacy is facing right now. Apparently, Cambridge Analytica, the same company that was behind aggressive Trump’s digital campaign, did a massive work on swaying Brexit referendum voters by targeting them using carefully built psychometric Facebook profiles. After collecting all the necessary data, thousands of different versions of customized advertisements were created and sent to potential voters depending on their personalities and political interests.
As we see, each piece of basic information, such as gender or age, on your Facebook profile may be not enough for successful targeting, but combined with your likes, status updates, connections, shopping data or club memberships, it can help to make very accurate predictions about your personality and find your exact emotional triggers. In case you wonder how do they get this information, the answer is brief: almost all data (including your phone number and address) is nowadays for sale and there thousands of companies specializing in this particular field.
And while most of the people see this information trade as a serious threat to human rights and personal privacy, they are constantly providing Big Data collectors with even more data. According to the EY survey, people are happy to share their personal details just to get something in return. Be it more Facebook likes, tweets, special offers or discounts on our favorite treats – it all depends on context and your personal needs.
Furthermore, most of the time we do not even bother what, why and to whom we give up our personal details to, by allowing cookies or quickly accepting terms and conditions (who even reads them?). It is no surprise, that according to Eurostat, more than 80% of Europeans think they do not wholly control their online data. Well, because they really don’t.
As we see, Big Data collection is a very complex issue. On one hand, such unprecedented knowledge can help companies improve their services and offer better products for their customers. On the other, users often feel annoyed and insecure about the fact that their data can be sold and used for purposes, other than they expect, not to mention the worst scenarios of identity thefts.
The most effective way to protect your privacy online is to take it into your own hands. Getting a reliable VPN service, which makes you anonymous online, is your first step. However, it is also crucial to review your online habits and be always aware of what and why you share.
Be safe online!