ICLOAK - Online Privacy: Tradeoffs and Trends
Now more than ever, we live in a world of data. Our personal information has become one of the hottest commodities of the Internet Age. Marketers fight for demographic data, purchase history data, personal interest data, and any data at all that might help them convince us to purchase their products.
Social media platforms and search engines have made their fortune on selling our data to these marketers so they can target ads to our specific characteristics. On the one hand, this has sparked a massive online privacy movement that has pressured major Internet companies to create binding privacy policies to protect user data. On the other hand, some people are indifferent to the use of their data and have embraced the new social world, where the line between private and public is much blurrier.
The biggest players in the online privacy game are Facebook and Google. Both companies do everything they can to collect the data of their users and then sell that data to marketers, helping them serve ads to their target demographics. And both companies have come under fire many times from online privacy advocates.
For example, Google has recently concluded a long and expensive series of legal battles in Europe that culminated in European courts requiring Google to offer a “right to be forgotten”, allowing individuals to erase their presence on Google if they believe their online privacy is being violated with no public gain.
That relates to the way Google searches can become records of all aspects of a person’s online presence, no matter how harmful that data might be. On the user side, Google tracks data about everyone who uses its services, trying to build up as rich a profile as they can on every single person who uses them for search, video, email, or anything else. This means that Google stores information about people and then sells that information to advertisers. The prospect of a large company monitoring your Internet presence and selling information about you to third parties is unsettling to many.
On the other hand, some people just do not care. The younger generation especially has grown up in a world of social media, where people make information about their lives, beliefs, thoughts, and day to day activities publicly available. The perspective of this camp is that the personal data is not that valuable anyway.
What does it matter if Google knows I am trying to buy a new laptop? In fact, the way Google or Facebook sells information to advertisers means that, in theory, everyone will see ads that are more suited to their needs and interests. If I see more ads for laptops when I need to buy a laptop, that might be worth a violation of my online privacy.
Not everyone cares so much about online privacy that they mind Internet companies tracking them and trying to target them with marketing content. Everyone on the Internet will see some kind of advertisements anyway. At least if companies tap into personal data the ads will be more likely to be useful to the viewer, and if they are not, then no harm done. This is the group that leaves their Facebook profiles with the default, open online privacy settings.
They are also the reason that Facebook and Google’s online privacy policies are not more restrictive than they are now- the companies know that many of their users don’t mind having their data harvested, so there’s no reason for the tech companies to cut themselves off from the revenue they can get from selling data. Consider the following. Google maintains information about each person who uses their services in one central file.
If you wanted to, you could ask Google to delete that file, effectively erasing all of the information Google has about you. Doing this is simple, fast, and easy, as long as you know that it is possible and you know where to look. Yet most people do not even bother to look. For them, their personal data just isn’t worth the effort of protecting it.
It would be remiss not to mention hacking. The “legitimate” use of personal data to help advertisers position their ads is, at least to some people, innocuous. But the many major hacks and leaks of more important data in recent months is far more serious. Big companies like Target have seen hackers steal the credit card information of millions of customers at a time. That’s much more serious because it opens the door to identity theft.
A serial Entrepreneur, With a broad base of experience from being a pet shop owner, working in radio, putting the first Virtual Reality Systems in Disney World, fundraising, import/export, cyber security, everything technology related, sales and marketing, to market research and channel distribution working for MTV Networks/Viacom, consultant to the National Science Foundation on SBIR funding proposals, and currently investing in real estate, startups, and founding and running ICLOAK, Inc.