When we think of online privacy, the greatest risks, for the most part, are fraud and imprisonment. However, despite taking all the necessary precautions (turning off location services, never “checking in” at an establishment), the moment that we turn on our phones and drive to the local watering hole, or browse for gifts for our loved ones for the upcoming holiday season, or search for “what is that yellow stuff found in…”, our every move is tracked. Simply having our phones on as we run our daily errands results in our actions being calculated and predicted, with algorithms being produced to create and generate the perfect marketing ads to target to us as individuals. But there’s more. This same function, whether you pay attention to it specifically or not, begins building a character based off our data, assigning us to a demographic and compiling us with the other, millions, billions, and trillions of bits of growing information.
The issue at hand is the question of who is tracking us and what they’re doing with the information. If you’re immersed in the online world, you might know that the “who” is simple: anyone or anything that can attach a cookie to your browsing habits online. On the other hand, the “what”, may be a little less obvious at first. After thinking about what the goal of all companies is, however, it becomes apparent that the “what” revolves around dollar signs. Money is being made from every little click. For instance, Datacoup will send you a cheque that depends on how much information you share, with the most basic offer cashing in at $8 a month for letting its API gather information from your Twitter or Foursquare profiles. With Handshake, you negotiate your price for providing information by, for instance, filling in a questionnaire about your buying habits. Or, by using Meeco’s private cloud to store your information and share your brand preferences, you might get a 50% discount on a pair of jeans.
“Data for dollars is just the start. We want our user base to be as knowledgeable as possible about their data so that they can understand their options,” says Matt Hogan, co-founder of Datacoup. These new retailers allow for Data Buyers to exist, and change the game for the two way marketplace. That is, up to date, sourced information on specific individuals who willingly participate with new and accurate information are popping up, whereas the same type of information from different sources, taking perhaps unknowingly, needs to be exported and produced, which could prove to be outdated and no longer viable for some businesses to make profit.
Not only has the game changed, but something else important to look at is the quality vs quantity component from data sorting. While thousands of users may use certain products and services for themselves to make a profit on companies making a profit on their habits, services that are free, such as Facebook and Google’s gmail, have between 900 million and 1.44 billion users who all provide valuable bits of information that can be extracted. Depending on their terms and agreements and an individual user’s ability to set their own privacy terms, large amounts of profit are being generated for those companies and others with whom they work with.
Confidentiality has started to lose to purely commercial considerations. For instance, several Internet phone companies offer free long distance to Facebook members. The calling service is paid for by advertisers who use Facebook’s highly detailed user profiles where the age, gender, education, network affiliations, and location are collected to deliver a powerful targeted messages to their intended demographics. Companies, spending money to make money, collect the information from freely shared sources on services such as Facebook. Take Privacyfix, for example. The app measures your last 60 days of activity on Google, extrapolates that to a year, and uses a value-per-search estimate. Analysts believed Google was making $14.70 per 1,000 searches in 2010, and possibly less in 2011. Of course, if you spend all your time searching for specific services and products—and then clicking through the advertised links shown—you’re much more valuable than the average user who may disregard certain links. Privacy Choice founder Jim Brock says his estimated annual Facebook value was a mere $1.68. His daughter, perhaps unsurprisingly, is at $12. His Google value checks in at more than $700 per year, though. The add-on also informs users about which websites they’re visiting that are feeding data back to Facebook and Google.
No matter what you do, the Internet and everything on the Internet is free reign material. Nothing is safe, but the choice is yours––what you use, what you don’t use, what you sign up for and what tools you use to protect yourself. However, the possibility of sharing your own information at your own discretion to make a financial gain of your own is there now, and it’s completely up to you as a user of the World Wide Web.
About Jitesh Chauhan
A student of life with a passion for people, communication, and privacy.