Tim Cook, Apple CEO, said “If we get this wrong, the dangers are profound…
“Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies. Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence, and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false. “Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency.”
Cook’s hook line for this message is strong. He is advocating for legal constraints similar to those in the European Union. There are two key points that affect us on a more personal basis. What has been already collected?… and how do you make adjustments that you feel you need to make to what is continuing to be collected?
Google is one of the largest collectors (and users) of search data and phone tracking. They are also transparent about what they are collecting about you. You can go to see what data Google has collected on you at Google CHECKUP. It will show your searches, videos watched on YouTube including any “likes” and comments. Google Maps and Android phones show everywhere you have been on a specific day. You can also adjust what you want Google to be able to collect about you.
They will argue that all the data history helps them help you. It is true. It also allows them to send advertising that is more relevant to you. Google only gets paid when someone clicks on an ad, so customizing increases their revenue and their value to advertisers.
Google dominates the internet data as the:
- Biggest browser company in the world.
- Biggest video host.
- Biggest email service.
- Biggest search engine.
- Biggest mobile operating system.
- Biggest server of digital ads.
Google controls 42% of the digital advertising market which is vastly more than anyone else. It is significantly larger than Facebook, which is the second largest. Google’s tracking codes appear on three quarters of the top million sites on the web. Google has a vested interest in tracking people to serve them ads which deliver 86% of Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) revenue.
Unfortunately, this puts Google at odds with the interests of its users’ privacy. Their Chrome browser was the last to include the “do not track” function. Many knowledgeable technology people refuse to use Chrome.
If you go to Facebook’s Accessing Your Facebook Data page, you can download all the data Facebook has collected from you. It also has all the contact information of your friends, including phone numbers etc., for the contacts you are connected to, those you deleted, and those you turned down. Photos are obviously there, too, and they can recognize faces. When you use a Facebook or Google sign-in for other websites, information is shared in both directions.
There is data that they collect on you that they don’t share. Many sites have tacking pixels that keep track of what you do on those sites and send the information to Facebook. Your messages to your congressman about political issues are often collected. Facebook has a patent pending that will connect you to others because their location data says you were in the same place at the same time. You don’t have to be connected or even know the person’s name.
Which is why it was such a big deal that Cambridge Analytica gave information to the Trump campaign and others. There is little doubt the Russians and Chinese have the data, too.
All mobile applications
When we check the box to accept terms and conditions without reviewing them, the implications are significant. That is a broader topic. There are some helpful insights on Ted Talks on data collection and artificial intelligence.
What can you do?
Most people do not know what data they agreed to give away. Above are two of the big data collectors you can check and adjust if you are concerned. There are a number of people deleting Facebook or significantly restraining it’s use. If you don’t want them to track your location, sign-out when you are not actively using the app. (That is not just closing the app; you need to log out.)
There are knowledgeable people who say it’s too late. The concept of privacy is gone. Just as you cannot collect the feathers of a pillow once you have released them to the wind, the data already shared will not go away. I do believe we can make the choice to be more aware and to actively manage how many feathers are in the wind.
Tim Cook is raising the issue because it is important and because there is still time to have impact, on a personal and global level.