We love surfing the internet. We check our social media accounts and emails every now and then. Communication has become an integral part of our society and it’s being made enjoyable and effecient due to the development of our technology. Social apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Gmail, and many more have become popular to the millenials and adults more than ever.
But, it has also opened up an opportunity for information-hungry companies to gather their users’ personal information. Have you ever wondered how Facebook, Google, Twitter and many other gigantic companies became this huge? You don’t pay to use their applications and services, right? You don’t pay to browse your Facebook newsfeed. You don’t pay to search using Google’s search engine. And you don’t pay to tweet that pathetic status about your cheating girlfriend.
How your personal info is gathered
Your friend invited you to Facebook. So you signed up to create your FB profile. You provided your email, name, age, address, work, marital status, gender, interests and other personal data. Then you were able to add your friends on Facebook. You browse your newsfeed and found an interesting video. You click on it and had so much fun watching the video. Then you told your friend about it through chat and he too, had fun. You signed up for Gmail as well to send and receive emails. You love music so you watch music videos on Youtube. Then you thought Nuclear Theory was fun to read so you searched for it using Google’s search engine.
That’s all there is to gather your personal information. Facebook has now your personal details - your social circle, interests, location, chat conversations, daily routine, etc. Google has access to all your emails since your emails are stored in their servers. Google also owns Youtube, so they know your favorite bands, artists and music genres. Your search history is also stored in Google’s servers, so Google knows that you (perhaps) watch porn a lot.
You had fun and convenience at the expense of your privacy. Your life is now an open book! You might think, “Yeah, so what? I don’t have a billion-dollar bank account that they could probably hack!”. Sure you’re a poor little broke bachelor, but that is not the point my friend.
How your personal info is being sold
These information are then used to cater the advertisements according to your interest and preferences. For instance, if you love cars, you’ll notice that ads about cars and car accessories will appear in your Facebook newsfeed. These car campanies will pay Facebook according to the number of clicks on the ad.
When you search through Google’s search engine, you’ll notice that ads about your search term will appear in the results. Google has a bidding system for the keywords used in searching. For example, if companies are paying Google for the keyword “loan”, the search results will favor the top bidders for that keyword.
Aside from Facebook and Google, some sites that you signed up for will send you emails about their products and services. Some even floods you with calls and text messages.
Computer companies like Apple and Microsoft are reportedly adding spywares to their system to track their users’ activities - the sites you visit, conversations, location, etc. Unlike linux operating systems, their system are proprietary and cannot be reviewed by other programmers. They can do whatever they want with their system without the world knowing. In fact, NSA has been reportedly paying Mircosoft to be able to intercept encrypted messages, emails and calls in Skype, Outlook and Hotmail. NSA is also said to be tapping in to user data of Apple, Google and other companies.
People are generally unaware of the consequences of sharing their information to private organizations. I once hacked a local job listing site containg emails of HR admins and applicants. I was able to login to some accounts and read their conversations with the applicants and their employer. I was also able to login to some PayPal accounts using their email and password combinations. I can make them lose their job anytime.
Though there’s no absolute privacy in the internet, it’s up to us whom to entrust our private information. Let’s be careful when signing up specially if the site looks bogus. Your information can be in the wrong hands. Who knows what could happen.