One of the most influential technological devices of the 21st century arrived in June 2007 when the world met Apple’s first-generation iPhone. Beginning with threaded text messages and the installment of applications, Apple dominated its industry and in turn our lives, and continues to do so even a decade later.
As technology radically dances around the boundaries of privacy and ethics, there comes to mind a significant feeling of concern as to where all of the cellular data we use is collected. Everyday activities such as using social media applications, HTML email, browsing sites, and the use of other technological platforms are recorded outside of our own knowledge.
In a nutshell, cellular data is the digital expressway for using apps or anything else without being connected to a WiFi network.
When we pay for and use cellular data, there’s no way to know who exactly (besides the owner) has access to the history or log of data installed into the phone after the factory settings have been adjusted.
For example, when installing an iPhone, users must agree to Apple’s Terms & Conditions which state that any stored information—if not turned off manually in Settings—can be tracked online through browser clicks, social media interactions and website visits.
If this is no news to you, kudos! Otherwise, you probably haven’t noticed or aren’t aware of why this is such a damper on personal privacy. Something as simple as ordering clothes online from a certain brand will suddenly and feverously allow a flow of similar products (most likely from that same brand) into your social media feeds.
That’s how the cookie crumbles
A few months ago, my boyfriend’s mom, Danna, bought us curtains for our bedroom. Danna ordered them online using her own personal device, but she inserted our address and information into the delivery section.
Sadly, when the curtains arrived, they were too long, so she had to reorder them because we liked them and they pulled the room together (Go, Danna). The same week, with no curtains to be hung, I was scrolling through my personal Instagram feed, and what do I see? The Pottery Barn curtains, same style and all.
But, how? I didn’t order the curtains. I hadn’t even seen what they looked like until Danna came over a few weeks before. Yet, there they were on my Instagram feed.
We thought that since Danna had ordered the curtains for us originally, it may have been a coincidence, but then we realized she had reordered them to come to our house at a later date using my boyfriend’s personal computer instead of her’s.
So, since I had logged on to social media sites on his computer and a purchase was made from Pottery Barn for those damn curtains, I saw firsthand how quickly things could add up on the internet without a person even knowing.
For me, it was a reality check.
It proved how other people’s locations and information is undoubtedly being shared within the internet’s realms. We could all be trackable, identifiable and causes for sale.
The other side of the Internet
A rapidly growing industry has blossomed from the ever-steady tracking of how we use the internet. Imagine companies — which you might have never interacted with — knowing more about you than you can imagine. Those companies are filled with data brokers.
Data brokers, or information brokers, are responsible for acquiring names, addresses and even an individual’s income on the internet. That information is then sold to other companies. Since the internet contains public information and records, making it legally accessible, there are very few guidelines regulating online data collection for individuals (except children).
But how do these companies and marketing firms target their markets? Well, they do it by paying for advertising space on websites. More specifically, major search engines, like Google, do their work for them.
With shopping malls dying and online consuming thriving, online advertisements have taken on a new approach to attracting customers. Consumers are led to filling out questionnaires with every personal detail imaginable in exchange for deals which allows companies to follow their habits and collect information on how they spend money online.
Who’s to blame?
According to the New York Times, “Yankelovich, a market research firm, estimated that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day, compared with up to 5,000 today,” so how does one escape advertisements when they’re everywhere?
Luckily, the major internet players do offer an option to almost escape the madness. Google’s “ad opt out” can be helpful, however, there are some things that opting out doesn’t do. Here are some of the most common scenarios and what you can do to address them.
Stop ads altogether
Ads are essential to fund many websites. When you opt out, you’ll still see ads by Google – they just won’t be based on topics you like, your visits to advertisers’ websites, or demographics.
Instead, they’ll be based on factors such as the content of the page or your general location.
Here are some other things you can do to control the ads you see:
See fewer ads online and support the websites you visit with Google Contributor. Turn off ads personalization for the Google ads you see when you’re signed out and those from 100+ other online ad networks through AdChoices.
Blocking ads and opting out of them is a start, but keeping personal information away from the data brokers is much more difficult to do. Stepping from 1984 and into 2017, users should find a greater sense of presence and awareness on the internet because there is always another player waiting to make a move.