There was a time – a much simpler time – when dating platforms would match people based on whether they were a dog or a cat person. Even then, those companies and establishments have already started to use data to tweak the way they offered services. Was it all harmless fun or a prelude to something more sinister?
Today, companies harvest our data to manipulate emotions, interfere with elections, sell us products, and temper with just about every aspect of modern life. With society’s future at stake, can we still say that surrendering our internet privacy is no big deal?
There was a time when companies would create a product and find ways to market it. These days, they know what will sell before they craft the product at all. With the amount of customer data floating around the internet, businesses know what you want before you even ask for it.
That brings us to the concept of big data.
Big data can be defined in many ways, but that does nothing to take away from the fact that it is just the buzzword for extremely large data sets and the analysis that takes place on them. To put things in context, big data refers to a massive stream of data which is run through and analyzed by either human or computer effort, all in a bid to identify trends and patterns.
The need for such analysis is to map human traits and responses to certain conditions, helping to identify interactions and behavioral patterns which are usually leveraged for the business’ needs.
The question is now how all of these relate to you.
If you use Netflix and/ or YouTube, for example, you must have been treated to the suggested movie/ video feature. More times than not, these are movies and videos that you would be interested in.
Log in to a friend’s account and you will find out that the same movies have not been suggested for both of you.
That is because they have found a way to personalize what you should watch to your needs. Going by your previous search history and movie preferences, they can better predict what you would like to watch next.
Alphabet is also one of those companies that have shifted their operational model to become a huge data company – and they have done it well. Owning big brands such as the Google Search engine, YouTube and the Android operating system (which comes with all of Gmail, Docs and other apps used on a daily basis), you can see how they have a hand in almost everything.
It is, thus, little wonder why you visit a fresh site and see an ad based on something you have looked up online in the past.
Perhaps the most defining example would be Facebook – as exposed by the Cambridge Analytica Scandal. A lot has already been said on the subject so we won’t over flog it here.
Basically, you see how all of these companies collect your data and use that to make personalized choices for you. The only problem is, these choices are more benefiting to them and their operational models) than the consumers (you)
In the bid to see how much impact big data is having on taking our internet privacy away from us, the Internet of Things should not be forgotten too.
As the name implies, the IoT concept is one which promotes the interconnectivity and interoperability of what used to be everyday things by maintaining them on an internet connection. This will enable the devices to send and receive data from one another, ensuring a compact ecosystem.
The good thing about IoT is that it allows you to control all connected units from the comfort of your smartphone (or suitable control devices). The poor part is that these things are operated on an internet connection – which can be hacked, by the way – and they usually have no forms of protection coming with them.
This means an unauthorized individual can hack into any of these devices to gain access to your entire home network.
There is no telling what they could do from there: hack all the devices on that network and take control? Hijack important document transmissions to your printer? Turn off your home security? The possibilities are endless.
Even if an outsider didn’t gain access to your network, companies behind those technologies do. This ties back into the big data model we have just discussed above.
Just by tracking the data of what lights come on automatically, the companies can know what rooms you spend most of your time in. They can get data on how long you like to cook your steak, and at what temperatures.
Anything the IoT units can record, the companies can access.
The biggest takeaway from this for most people is that the internet is fast becoming a faucet for their personal lives to get out of their control. However, there is more to this than that.
People used to have a choice, but that is being taken away from them. Instead of being able to look for what products you want, big data means companies will suggest what they feel is best for you instead.
Content creators will show you just the kind of content they feel will sell most in your market and keep you out of the loop concerning others.
It gets even more interesting.
Governments and other organizations can now manipulate the thoughts of the general populace with all these data. After all, they now know what you react to, and how you react to it.
It is scary to think about what the future holds for internet privacy if we are at this stage today. That is why proactive measures should be taken to combat this uprising.
You can take back your privacy by using anonymous search engine portals like DuckDuckGo and Qwant. They don’t track your activity around the web and surely don’t have more apps looking to get under your skin.
Private browsers like Tor will also help keep you anonymous, preventing companies from personally identifying your computer to the streams of data it generates. That is, of course, in addition to using a VPN.
That way, you can throw anyone off your scent, encrypt your connection and even secure your IoT network.