In the 21st century, we live in a society where we leave footprints everywhere we go – digital footprints. Maybe you used Amazon to search for a product and suddenly ads for it start appearing on every website you visit, offering you a discount. Perhaps you own an Instagram account, which is owned by Facebook Inc, which has been revealed, unsurprisingly, to collect your data and sell it to other companies such as in the Cambridge Analytica incident.
Data has become increasingly valuable over these past couple years, and many websites have taken advantage of this, collecting data about their user’s habits, history, and purchases. Some companies may use this data to predict products their customers would like and present it to them, in a targeted marketing campaign. Other companies may see the data as a product, to be sold to other companies and data brokers, who then use that data for their less than ethical agendas.
How is data collected?
However they want – after all, it’s their service. For example, when you visit a website, it obtains various details about you and the computer you’re using. The owners of the website may store any information about you, including but not limited to your IP address, User Agent, and pages that you visit. The website may even put what is known as a “tracking cookie” on your browser to gather even more information, such as website that you’ve previously visited. All of this is often done with little or no warning.
What happens to the data?
What is done to the data after gathering it is completely up to the intentions of the company. An eCommerce company such as Amazon or eBay might use this data to serve ads to you based on what their algorithms believe you’re most likely to purchase. Google does the same, offering data about you and every other person they have information on to advertisers, who then serve targeted ads to you.
However, there are a few extreme cases of malicious intent using this data. Social media site Facebook was discovered to have been selling data about their users to a company named Cambridge Analytica, who then used that data to create psychological profiles of all of Facebook’s users. These profiles were used to influence Donald Trump’s campaign, and still is a huge privacy concern for months to come. Facebook was also discovered to be creating “Shadow Profiles” of people who didn’t use their site. These profiles were created using an algorithm that used inferences from actual Facebook users and their data, creating a invisible profiles for people who didn’t even know they were being watched.