How many times have you skimmed a 'T&C' page, or seen/clicked on an advert from Facebook or Google, or even bought something over the internet?
If you're anything like me, you've probably done all these things and never even thought twice about it. But should we be more aware of the consequences of these actions? And should we care that ads are specifically targeting us? Unfortunately, the answer isn't as simple as yes or no...
Ultimately, it all comes down to data, and what companies do with it. It should be no surprise to many of you that your data is monitored and recorded by a host different companies, whether it's Google, Facebook, Amazon or your favourite online book shop. Many of these companies either use or sell on that information in order to improve the adverts that you see, thereby creating more opportunities to sell things to you.
I'm probably not the only one to care deeply about who can see my information, and as a student my lack of finances means my credit card information is very important. So why is it that Amazon stores our credit card information? Surely it only takes one hacker with bad intentions and we’re all done for.
Well, the answer lies in convenience. In a world with increasing technological access, privacy should be critical, yet in most cases it probably comes secondary to expediency. A TIME magazine article published last year dubbed this the 'privacy paradox' - in which we want to protect ourselves, but we also want utmost convenience. We figure the worst that will happen is we feel marginally violated by all the corporate algorithms and maybe the government, but it's worth it because we get to use an app more efficiently, buy something on Amazon faster or simply boost our ego in the digital sphere. We care about privacy but truthfully, we care about simplicity even more.
According to a CBS article, Google has said it has access to 70% of debit and credit card transactions in the US. A separate study suggests that Google has trackers on 76% of websites, while Facebook tracks 23% of websites. Furthermore, given that the study is almost a year old, these figures have probably increased.
But why should we care? Well, this invasion of online privacy has directly impacted the world around us. The Trump campaign used these algorithms to selectively target voters and sell information. In Britain, the Facebook data of 50 million people was used by data firm 'Cambridge Analytica' to target voters and by consequence, sway the outcome of the Brexit Vote. Those few algorithms influenced the outcomes of nationwide elections, and it could be done again without anyone knowing.
However, I think the take-away from all this should be to remain calm. Be aware that data is free flowing on the internet, but take comfort in the fact that the web isn't owned by any one entity. Ultimately, we’re all still stamping those T&C clauses with 'Agree'.