Recent controversies surrounding Google and Facebook with regards to data privacy has sparked the concerns of a lot of people over data protection and privacy issues. The usual excuse of these tech giants involve users not reading the privacy policies through and through – but some critics are stating that it’s the responsibility of tech companies to make sure users are aware of their rights. So here’s an insider’s look into what tech companies actually do with your data.
If you’ve ever been curious just what exactly do tech companies do with your data and what tech companies can access, your personal data, message scanning, and gyroscope are just three (3) of the many things you may have agreed with when signing up to sites and applications.
A recent report has revealed that a lot of the language used in privacy terms and policies of sites and apps of tech firms do require university education in order to be properly understood. Past all the technical jargon, however, are massive implications to just how exactly your data is being used by these corporations.
- Your location will be tracked whether you like it or not: A lot of applications ask for your permission in order to be able to track your device’s precise location via your Global Positioning System (GPS), something most if not all smartphones have. You have the option to refuse this, but you’re likely going to be ignored anyway. For instance, Facebook actually is capable of collecting location-related information aside from the ones provided by your phone’s GPS. This means you can still be tracked via IP, or by events and check-ins you’ve tracked. Twitter, too, requires information about your current whereabouts. In its policies, it says this is used to “reliably and securely maintain and set up your account.”
- Your data will be passed from company to affiliate: Once you agree to an app or site’s terms and conditions, not only do you give your data to that particular site or app, but there’s quite a lot of data sharing going on within the company regarding your data. For instance, Tinder – the dating app – captures a lot of data you provide in order to get proper matches. However, this data is also shared to various members within the Match Group, which includes other dating sites such as Match.com, Plenty of Fish, and OkCupid. While Tinder explains this is for “targeted advertising, marketing, customer care, and maintenance” as well as removing violators of their usage terms, it does seem quite distressing how your data is being passed around. Meanwhile, when Microsoft bought LinkedIn back in 2016, LinkedIn actually not only receives data about you, but also data whenever you use services LinkedIn and its associates – including Microsoft – provides.
- Your terms and conditions extend to third parties: If you think reading the terms and conditions of tech companies are exhausting, imagine having to read those of third parties’. In fact, you don’t have to, as you likely need to if you want to know what they’re doing with your data. Amazon, for instance, said signing up means they can share information you give them to their third party affiliates. In their own terms, users should “carefully review” the statements of privacy and other usage conditions of these affiliates as well. Using Apple products, for instance, will also mean sharing your data to companies that provide them services such as extending credit and information processing, as well as product and service interest assessment. Wikipedia, on the other hand, proclaims they don’t share your information for third parties or the sake of marketing. They also made it clear that they don’t allow user tracking by third-party sites you haven’t visited.
- Your apps can track you even while you’re not using them: Facebook is quite a distressing member of this family of apps, as Facebook actually gets to track just what you do even when you’re logged off, or even when you don’t have an account. Its data policy states that publishers, app developers, and advertisers can send it information about your activities even away from Facebook through its Facebook Business Tools. These third party affiliates provide information to Facebook about the ads you see, the purchases you make, and websites you visit. Apparently, this also happens whether you’re on or off Facebook as well.
- Your websites can scan your private messages: Private messages aren’t so private in the realm of the internet. Sites such as LinkedIn actually use what they call “automatic scanning technology” on its users’ private messages. They state this is due to them wanting to avoid concerns regarding spam, sites, and even to be able to suggest auto-replies. Twitter, in the meantime, processes and stores all your messages. Twitter also uses data about when and who you’ve communicated with in order to better understand their services.
- Your deleted searches likely still exists out there: In the meantime, Facebook does offer the option for you to delete your recent searches from their history, which gives the impression that you have the ability to “wipe your slate clean.” Unfortunately, their data policy does state that you can delete search history from your end, but log of that search is only really deleted after half a year.
- Your dating site collects your gyroscope data: In terms of more specific services, Tinder – yes, the dating app – is actually able to collect data from your phone’s compasses, gyroscopes (as in the angle you’re using to hold your phone) and your accelerometer (to measure your movement).
What’s perhaps distressing is that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union doesn’t direct companies to list just who are the third parties involved in their operations. Ailidh Callander of charity Privacy International said this is alarming, as not only do companies like data brokers can access your data, but also your contacts, interests, and locations to be able to profile you.
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