There was a fascinating moment during a 2018 Congressional hearing when big tech Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked about the proliferation of “shadow profiles” on his social media platform. Zuckerberg said he did not know what those profiles were but admitted that “In general, we (Facebook) collect data of people who have not signed up for Facebook for security purposes.”
This idea of collecting information about users who have never been a member of the platform is nothing new to privacy advocates. Think of it like a doughnut. You have this massive amount of information gathered from online purchases, friends’ connections, web browsing data, and more that is collected by Facebook – that would be the large outer ring of a doughnut.
In the middle, you have a hole. Even though there is nothing there, you know at one point that dough had to exist and can quickly create an image of what that ingredient looked like before it was cut out. The same is true for shadow profiles. So much info is collected on the habits of the world around you that all of a sudden, that middle empty space becomes a lot clearer, and Big Tech is able to create a profile of who you are without your consent.
Putting Privacy in Perspective
The idea that we have online anonymity is ludicrous. Maybe those expert digital technicians that understand how to leverage the latest tools to mask their identity are able to browse without Big Tech or Government watch programs tracking every detail of their movement, but for the most part, the average Australian consumer is subject to the advertising whims of a few massive companies that control the online world.
Think of it this way, 39% of Americans boldly claim they would give up sex for a whole year in exchange for better online security. Why would we voluntarily give up something foundational to our survival as a species? Simple, there were more than 14 million victims of identity fraud in the US during 2018. People are sick and tired of being victimized on a routine basis.
It does not stop with individual thieves trying to use our credit card information for a new TV at Harvey Norman. Big Tech is fundamentally changing the way we interact with the web. When the internet began, we were focused on information only. Little by little, advertising was introduced and suddenly, these websites that used to host straightforward data moved to a pay-per-click model. This focus on monetization transformed the online ecosystem where the more detailed a profile companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook can get on their users, the easier it become to sell them products.
The Extension of Legal Spying and Surveillance
In 2013, we were all treated to stories about the famed whistleblower Edward Snowden leaking information about the NSA programs actively spying on every American citizen. This massive program collected everything from telephone records to online communication. Moreover, it partnered with Big Tech companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.
For a while, we thought everything was better. This disclosure resulted in numerous government oversight programs and special investigations that should have put a stop to such colossal overreach. Unfortunately, that is not what happened at all.
On February 10, 2022, a newly declassified report was released by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) about the CIA’s surveillance program that has been subject to even less oversight than the programs uncovered by Snowden. To put it bluntly, no one is watching the watchers.
That fact is the CIA and other agencies really do not have to work that hard to collect this data because Big Tech is doing it for them. Your digital footprints are everywhere. Every time you visit a website, enter in payment information, sign up for a newsletter, fill out a form, post on social media, or use some form of cloud storage, you release personal information that Big Tech uses to advance its advertising and revenue streams. It only makes sense government agencies would want that same data.
Enter the Smartphone
In today’s modern world, this data collection has never been easier. We all have supercomputers tucked into our pockets and purses that have our entire lives wrapped into attractive mobile applications. Everything from banking to social media to those secret text messages from a lover is stored in a server somewhere that we will most likely never see. Who’s to say if some Facebook worker in Sydney decides they want to look at all the photos of an ex-partner in Perth, remember, we all agreed to those endless Terms and Conditions that give Facebook access to information just like our private photos.
Almost every app we download onto our phones has some form of data tracking capability. These companies say it is to give them insight into improving their product, but at the end of the day, it means they can see how often we purchase celery from the grocery store, when we get paid from our employer, and the route we take every day from home to work.
There is no way to anonymize this data, especially when it comes to tracking our physical location. “D.N.A. is probably the only thing that’s harder to anonymize than precise geolocation information,” says Paul Ohm, a law professor and privacy researcher at the Georgetown University Law Center.
Big Tech is actively surveilling our everyday activities with no regard for our privacy. With a few keystrokes of their machines, they can see who is cheating on their marriage, going to see a psychologist, or fulfilling their drug addictions. Can this data help society? Sure, but should it be exposed? Never!
We are human beings who should be granted the simple decency of making our own choices and living with those consequences on our own. That is the point of life, to go out into the world and experience everything making mistakes and trying to become better people. That journey should not be subject to the whims of Big Tech and government agencies that simply do not care about our individual privacy.
You are the Product For Big Tech
These companies that we take for granted on a daily basis are selling our information. Every single platform and application we use has the capability to store and sell our personal data. Why do you think the recent concert you looked up on Google is suddenly on every ad you see across Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter? They are selling your data to one another.
This is big business. In 2020, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions earned more than $3 billion in revenue by providing advertisers access to their 700 million-plus user base. YouTube made $6.9 billion doing the same thing. That is more money than some countries make in annual GDP, all from the information we share about our favorite movies or most recent sushi platter at lunch.
This trend of selling this information is not going to stop any time soon. The Big Tech companies of Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google combined spent over $20 million on lobbying efforts in the first half of 2020 alone. Sometimes this is in support of legislation that improves our economy or society, but it is also used to stop any bills that may restrict their business operations.
Everyone from Mike Lee, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee to leading Democrat voices, accepts contributions from Big Tech. The incentive to create laws and privacy protections will never pass when our representatives at every level of government are getting their pockets filled by the same companies who swear they are not collecting our data.
How Do You Protect Yourself?
What can you do to stop these programs from finding out everything about your private life? Turn off all tracking systems on your phones, hide in a cave, and hope for the best. Not very practical, is it?
The better solution is to utilise products like what we have at Freedom Technology and Services. We make PCs with secure Linux-based operating systems that protect your privacy online. We have deGoogled phones that prevent Big Tech from tracking all your purchases and messaging. We even have faraday bags that stop radio signals and WiFi from accessing your phone’s information.
While you cannot 100% stop Big Tech or the government from collecting data on you and your family. You can be proactive and create barriers that allow you some freedom to breathe fresh air from the stranglehold of violated privacy rights.