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Everyone is tired of getting spammed. You see around 400 advertisements every day. Advertisements that might not be relevant to you at that particular second in that day. But we have become so used to these activities online we hardly ever stop and think about why those ads are being shown to you and why you are getting spammed. The more significant concern here is your privacy.

Data is one of the most powerful resources today. It can reveal all the information about your existence. And all that information can be traded for a menial amount of money, which generates huge profits for companies. The worst part of it all-you that you won’t even know how your activities are being tracked. 

Let’s dive a little deeper into the world of information. You will be surprised at how the users’ data collection is an almost 200 billion dollars industry. And this is not a process in which the consumers actively agree on their full knowledge and awareness about how their data might be used and sold to other organizations.

There are departments set up in companies to analyze your online behaviour. Your most minor actions are being watched -which even includes pausing at a particular section of a webpage. Remember those prompts which ask you to accept cookies to “enhance your experience”? They track your activities. They generate information around your behaviour and sell the observations and conclusions to other companies, which then bombard you with irrelevant ads, offers and rewards. Concerning? VERY MUCH SO. 

Data trading:

Data broker is the correct term for firms that collect and resell your information to other organizations in exchange for money. In harsh words, that is the price tag they put on your privacy despite realizing the consequences such information leakage might create for the people. These brokerage firms gather your information through survey forms, website cookies etc. Data is formulated into profiles and then sold. The companies use these profiles to target them with campaigns, advertisements, etc. This whole process is highly unfair and unprofessional. But our brains have been conditioned into accepting this exploitation usually and “something which just happens online”. We fail to comprehend the severity of privacy invasion and data leakage. 

What is the secret to Facebook/Google’s success?

Tech giants like Facebook and Google are a huge success. You can see by the number of users that use the platform. Google’s success can just be comprehended by replacing the word “search”. We hardly ask anyone to search for specific things on the internet. Instead, we ask them to “google it”. But what is the reason behind their success? It’s advertising. You will be shocked to know how Facebook and Google have created a duopoly and, by doing so, have acclaimed their thrones and created barriers to eliminate their competitors. To learn more about why Google and Facebook are the advertising kings, visit this link:

What do these platforms know about you?

These platforms capture your web surfing behaviour, the websites you visit mostly, your screen type, resolution, IP address, email address, shopping cart details, products you engage with, ads you clicked, and sometimes even your password. Shocked? Rightly so. Imagine identity trackers and super cookies just hiding along for the ride without your knowledge and capturing everything you do. Then analyze and generate profiles with your personal and online behavioural details. Is privacy a joke? Looks like it. In layman terms, these trackers snoop around like those neighbourhood aunties and fish out details of everything you do outdoors, who you hang out with, what you did at 3pm on a random Thursday. And boy, are those aunties annoying! 

How is your data monetized by these platforms?

You are magnanimously wrong if you think that the government is here to protect you against these data breaches and privacy invasion. The Indian government revealed that it sold driving licence and vehicle registration data, insurance and tax paid data of Indian citizens at specific rates to organizations. They generated around 65 crores in 2019 from selling this data in bulk to the companies ready to pay the price. And the prices were set to increase at a rate of 5 per cent annually from FY 2020-21. 

While this was just about the government generating colossal money from your data without your knowledge, other platforms that gather your information and trade it for money do so by selling your profiles which contain your online behaviour and search history. Through this data, the companies target the audience through ads by paying advertisers, agencies and the platforms running their ads. They modulate your brain by continuously showing you the ads and converting you into their customers. 

A lot of data the brokers collect is available online. They go through the publicly available data and make datasets as required. Another way to collect data is to contact the companies that gather user information. A lot of data brokers rent out servers to accumulate consumer information. This business is becoming shadier by the second. 

Why are platforms like Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, Google free for the user?

If you engage with three reels related to BTS, the algorithm that tracks your Instagram behaviour will customize your feed with more BTS content. You might simply watch it for a fun couple of seconds. Maybe you are someone who wasn’t even aware of who BTS is (a dangerous thing to say). Still, the algorithm has now concluded that you are interested in the boy band. This goes the extra mile by showing you businesses that sell BTS related products, and before you know it, your whole feed is now filled with BTS. Tough price to pay for watching just thirty seconds of content you probably did not understand since high chances are that you don’t know Korean. 

These platforms collect your online behavioural data for free and then use that information to target you with ads, campaigns, offers by constantly showing them on your feed. They monetize these ads from the respective brands and generate revenue on their platform. 

The loop stays the same: provide free services, collect user behaviour data, analyze, target them with ads, generate revenue. Always remember: “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”

The deep fake apps allow you to morph pictures, create synthetic faces of how you would look 40 years down the line, leverage images into creating videos of incidents that never happened, and the list goes on. The algorithms today have the power to determine if specific pictures are in violation of the privacy policies of the applications. Technology can monitor your sleep, your walk, your talk and it’s as easy to install spyware into your personal gadgets as dunking Oreos in milk. Fabrication and collection of user data is child’s play. 

And you are worried about the robot uprising?