As technology evolves, our data becomes more precious and the big tech firms slowly become bigger online snoopers. There’s a lot of concern about third-party access and manipulation. For example, consider how Facebook uses your data. The social media giant raised several privacy concerns even before the Cambridge Analytica scandal. There was a raging debate about whether devices belonging to terror suspects or criminals should be broken into. Should the government be able to unlock such accounts? And what would that mean for the rights of the wider public? Technology is also driving job dislocations and outsourcing. This has created a deep concern for the US job market. Even with stricter privacy regulations such as EU’s GDPR and California’s AB-375 companies such as Facebook, Google, and Windows are still tricking users into dropping their privacy rights.
Facebook Writes Its Own Rules?
In 2017, social media channel Facebook came under heavy public and media scrutiny. The reason? Facebook allegedly sold over 3 thousand ads to a Russian agency during the Presidential campaign. Many of these ads sought to increase disagreements regarding the “Muslims and the Black Lives Matter” movement. Clearly, the role of Facebook in political discourse itself remains a matter of debate. Just how deep does the rabbit hole go? The modern-day propagandist is definitely no Alice in Wonderland. These clever public opinion manipulators know exactly what they are doing.
Technology – From a Boon to a Bane?
The same tools empowering advertisers to share and target messages with specific niches can be misused by these twisted powers. Foreign propaganda is also an extremely affordable option because the tools are so easily available. These unscrupulous individuals shape public opinion by broadcasting messages they want. This includes fake news and controversial opinion pieces. They also know how to target audiences with a precision that gets the best bang for the bucks.
Penny for Your Thoughts: Influencing Public Opinion
They get the biggest impact without spending a lot of cash. The same tools that legit advertisers use are misused by these thought criminals. When one of the ads or trackers comes up on the website, it reads and writes cookies much like a regular ad. This means your online behavior can be mined and profiles can be later targeted. The only difference? While regular ad execs want to sell you products, these nefarious and criminal characters seek to mold political influence. They can impact you as well as your vote in so many ways.
What Websites Know: Perils of Going Online
Big brother is watching you online now! It’s a fact that trackers collect internet user data regarding online behavior in over 79% of the sites. Most of these trackers collect data to come up with detailed user profiles. These profiles can be purchased, sold, and used by ad agencies to target individuals with constant adverts.
When it comes to the collection of user data, trackers can learn everything about you. This includes individual browsing habits, e-commerce choices, and more. They can learn everything about how much money you earn, your sexual orientation, how healthy you are, and even your political and religious views. Online tracking has become so widespread. Close to 10 percent of all websites sent data collected to as many as 10 or more firms. Further, 15 percent of all the page loads on the internet are monitored by 10 or more trackers.
The More, the Merrier?
Trackers collect more browsing habits than you’d imagine. And that too without your knowledge or consent. This creates a ready collection of data which can be used to manipulate people’s minds. And that’s not all. If this data is hacked, there can be cases of identity theft, fake news, online scams, and malicious acts like illegal tracking.
Risking Your Privacy Online
The ultimate deal is personal data gets taken from you each time you browse a site online. This can be used to target you with ads by third parties, for what seems to be “free” content. In fact, it’s actually being sold and is putting your privacy and security at grave risk.
What’s worrying is that national data protection laws cannot safeguard you. This for-profit data collection is happening and in the open, as companies are more sophisticated in how information is used.
Google’s Searching For You!
Google is one example. In May 2017, it began to tie billions of online credit card transactions to user behavior online. This is already tracked with data from Google apps like Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube and many others. The program is simply putting your privacy at risk. What is worse is that companies actually have incentives to pull stunts like these. There’s even an FTC complaint filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center in July 2017.
The decisions on the case have yet to be made but consumers can take their own steps to safeguard online privacy.
What You Can Do
While it is extremely difficult, or even impossible, to stop being completely tracked online, there are certain steps and measures you can take to protect your privacy.
Monitor The Trackers!
Trackers have access to your internet browsing activity. Have a browser extension that helps you to know which sites are tracking you. And then, block those sites which you don’t want to give your data to. It’s as simple as that!
Use Search Engines That Safeguard Your Privacy
Don’t use search engines that track personal data. Instead, go for those that do not monitor you in any way. An example of this is Duck Duck Go. There are plenty of Google alternatives that respect your privacy and data.
Delete the Cookies, Save Yourself from a Jarring Experience!
Configure your browser to delete cookies. This will guarantee your privacy (and your peace of mind).
Use a Virtual Private Network
When it comes to online anonymity, there’s no better tool than a VPN. Connecting to a virtual private network will allow you to hide your public IP address and browse the web anonymously. Check this guide for more info on why VPNs have become essential for a secure browsing experience.
Why Websites Need to Cooperate
While these are good ways to protect yourself online, you also need sites which cooperate with you. The online data exchange needs to be a fair trade. Websites need to tell you about the true price of online content. Consumers can then understand whether they are getting valuable content in exchange for the price paid for it or not. Websites and advertisers online must also be transparent about the data they collect from you. This can cause users to make informed choices. It also changes the way they spend their time online. And, of course, it safeguards and protects them from online manipulation.
As a user, you must be aware of how tech companies (and propagandists) are using you and turn the tables on them instead!