Your Personal Data is Spread Across the World

In 2010, I posted this on Facebook – “Google knows more about you than your own Government”.

Things have changed over last decade and it is highly likely that Govt also knows as much as any Private company. There are now more players in private space who are in B2C business where users also generate data along with the owner of the website or app.

In this post I want to share my perspective on Personal Data.

How you leave your footprint online

You’re probably aware of this. The apps that you use in your mobile constantly track your usage and send it to their servers.

Facebook, for example knows how many times you login to their app per day, how much time you spend each time you login, what’s your interest based on pages you follow and type of content you ‘like’. Facebook can use this information to target you with specific ads. This will also help facebook to optimize the content for you while you’re browsing through the timeline.

Amazon on other hand knows your purchase pattern, time you spend on each category of products and when you’re most likely to purchase. Amazon can use this information to target you with right ads. Amazon can also use this information to show you right products to buy.

Govt can use your information to target you with promises during election. For example if you’re from the area where average electricity bill is 200Rs – 400Rs compared to area where average bill is 1500Rs, it means you’re from middle class family and Govt can target with right set of promises.

How you leave your footprint offline

Imagine you walked into a mall. CCTV placed there records your beautiful face. You then place your stuff inside the Metal Detector. You leave some footprint there.

You walk inside a shop where you will be welcomed with second set of CCTVs. You buy an item and make payment. Salesperson politely asks for your mobile number and you don’t hesitate to give it. You swipe your card and enter the PIN. So you have let so many systems know that you were in that shop, on that particular day, at that particular moment.

You then continue your shopping across multiple shops which capture your transactions.

Later you enter into the movie theatre where you scan the code which records your presence. You go to the food counter and purchase some popcorns and swipe your card which records the money you spent and date and time of purchase.

After you’re done with the movie, you roam around a bit and finally, you enter the restaurants in the mall and buy something to eat. Again the system records your eating habit, money you typically spend.

You are most likely to repeat this behaviour once a month. If somebody combined all this data, they can easily predict how you’ll behave in a mall and can target with ads in such a way that you spend more next time.

Now imagine the list of other activities you do – you walk across street, go to different stores, make purchases, hire a cab etc. Everywhere you’re leaving some footprint which is used by someone else to re-target you. Whenever you’re given a little stimulus, you’ll mostly likely repeat them.

Safety over Privacy

In some cases collecting your personal information is required for the greater good of the society. This is acceptable as there are no other bad intention behind that.

For example during Covid-19, different Govt’s use app based tracking to prevent the spread of the virus.

There are, however, arguments against this. What if Govt uses this for purposes other than the intended one.

This solely depends on trust each Govt builds with its people.

Why a Business needs Data ?

Online content providers use your information to personalise your experience on the website or apps. you probably like this service.

Why waste time in searching for content when an app can do that for you. If food delivery apps can recommend good restaurant nearby based on you likings what’s wrong in that. If e-commerce app recommends newly available collection based on you last purchase what’s the big deal?

In most of the cases these services are making people’s life easier by providing relevant information on their platform. Even if they are influencing people to spend more time on their platform or making them buy stuff, this will not harm much.

The Choice

You visiting Facebook, Youtube or Amazon is your choice but what you do after logging in, is their choice.

Every business owner wants you to spend more time or money on his platform. That’s how the business works.

What’s wrong in that ?

Remember Cambridge Analytica Case ?

In early 2018, millions of Facebook users’ personal data was harvested without consent, by Cambridge Analytica to be used for political advertising.

This is what most people are afraid of. What if their data is used to influence them in wrong way ? What if that results in something catastrophic?. Who will take the responsibilities for the same

You can read more about Cambridge Analytics scam here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook–Cambridge_Analytica_data_scandal

Do you have the bargaining power ?

Whenever you’re confused about data privacy you should ask this question- “Do I have the bargaining power on this platform ? “

When you are buying a physical good, you bargain for money. When you’re surfing through the free digital content, what are you bargaining for ? Time ? Mind Power ?

Because, most of the digital services are free, you can’t bargain. If you want to bargain, you’ll have to opt for paid services. Which most of the people are not comfortable with.

What if we had a unified view of all of our data in one place ?

The biggest problem is we don’t know who has our data and at what level of granularity !!!

But, if we had a solution which combined all the data in one place then we could analyse our own data and build our own horoscope. We could easily know our spending pattern on both time and money and we could optimise our day-to-day life. We could even predict what’s gonna happen in future.

Unfortunately this is not possible now. Each of the services you use, maintain their own servers and keep your data safely there. There’s no one service which can extract all of them and provide it to you.

Conclusion

You don’t have control over your data.

The intention of this post is not to scare you. This is to make you aware that your data works that way.