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Companies are Harvesting Your Data. Here is How and Why.

Written by Melanie Herbert And Molly Cantillon, Co-Founders of GirlTechBoss

It is no secret in today’s modern age of social media and iPhones that we are all being digitally tracked. Everything from your location, to your search history, and your latest FaceBook post are all being used and sold to and from the companies we know, and trust, the most. Google, considered one of the Big Four technology companies alongside Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft, was only established in 1998, yet Google.com is the most visited website in the world. It was even labeled as the most valuable brand in the world in 2017, but has recently received significant criticism regarding privacy concerns, tax avoidance, antitrust, censorship, and search neutrality.


So what exactly does Google Track?


For starters, Google knows and tracks your location. You can see a timeline of where you’ve been from the very first day you started using Google on your phone. The amount of time it took you to travel from one location to the next is even tracked. The company also knows everything that you have searched, and everything you have deleted. This may come as a shocker, but just because you clear your search history doesn’t mean it has been wiped off from the cloud and most certainly not from Google’s data analytics. Google also knows the apps you use, how frequently you open them, who you talk to the most, what time you go to bed. The company even has full access to every email you have sent and received along with Youtube search history, which can tell a lot about a person. Whether they are a so-to-be parent, if they like comedy, if they are feeling sad or depressed, whether they are a conservative or a liberal... the list continues.


Click on this link to see your own data: google.com/takeout


Google Is NOT the Only One.

Google, as the biggest search engine in the world, is known to keep track of data. However, as a social media platform where users connect and express themselves, Facebook does something equally as invasive and not as well-known to the public. Facebook not only tracks seemingly benign information like friend requests, birthdays, and photo memories, but, underneath the surface, they track an alarming amount of information from every website, app, and even real-life store you visit to create highly-tailored ads for their users. Facebook calls this “off-Facebook activity” and requires users to agree to those conditions before they even create an account.


^Above link:https://www.netflix.com/title/80117542


The largest known leak in Facebook history occurred in 2018. Cambridge Analytica, a company often heard in data harvesting and digital privacy conversations, essentially harvested data without the consent of millions of Facebook users with the end goal to sell the data of American voters to political campaigns. Netflix Documentary, “The Great Hack”, was released in early 2019 and highlighted the company and how it came to symbolize the dark side of social media in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The eye-opening documentary sparked unrest amongst viewers and more awareness was brought to private companies harvesting online information.

But what is the point of all this information?

All of this data is being used to create a digital user profile that can be sold to different companies. Your digital information is arguably even more valuable than knowing or even meeting you in person. The user profile isn’t a profile of your outward self, or how you act and portray yourself to others, it is a profile that contains your personal thoughts and feelings- almost like a diary. Online, people don’t always realize that they are being tracked. Your user profile contains the juicy details, your personal interactions, and thoughts, which can be extremely helpful to certain companies and even political campaigns.

And as previously mentioned, these companies sell this harvested data, your user profiles, to other companies looking to target a certain demographic. Your user profile info doesn’t just rest in a “cloud”, it is sold to dozens, if not hundreds, of third-party companies and organizations. From then onwards, the data can be used in multiple ways.


One of the most common and well-known uses of the digital user profile is an advertisement. You have a specific advertisement profile that includes your location, gender, age, political party, hobbies, career, interests, relationship status, and income. This information is used in figuring out what Youtube, Google, and Website advertisements will be sent to your computer.


Click on this link to see your own data: google.com/settings/ads/


Feeling a little invaded? Privacy and Discrimination Concerns.

“Manage to gain access to someone’s Google account? Perfect, you have a chronological diary of everything that person has done for the last 10 years”, Dylan Curran is a data consultant and web developer stated. Not only is our privacy at stake, but apart from the dangers of merely collecting and storing all that data, detailed (and often erroneous) consumer profiles can lead to race or income-based discrimination, in a high-tech version of redlining, writes Fastcompany.com.


REFERENCES/Citations:

  1. https://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2015/07/24/worried-about-googles-your-timeline-heres-how-to-disable-tracking/

  2. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/28/all-the-data-facebook-google-has-on-you-privacy

  3. https://hackernoon.com/how-to-see-exactly-who-google-thinks-you-are-and-then-turn-off-their-tracking-94e83183fe36

  4. https://www.fastcompany.com/90310803/here-are-the-data-brokers-quietly-buying-and-selling-your-personal-information

  5. https://www.netflix.com/title/80117542

  6. https://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-clear-history-offline-activity-tracker-tool-how-to-use-2020-1#to-turn-this-tracking-off-click-on-manage-your-off-facebook-activity-from-the-menu-on-the-right-side-of-the-screen-6



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