Do companies now know too much about us? Do they have full access to detailed information about who we are, what we do and what we want? These are some of the questions we are preoccupied with today and which are regularly reported in the media – all in an environment where privacy has become a central topic of discussion. One thing is certain: Hardly anyone wants a company to know too much about them.
You only have to look at the tug-of-war between companies and consumers when it comes to the subject of “My cell phone is listening”. The companies have denied this in many ways, making it clear that keeping an eye on all the conversations consumers have would be far too technically burdensome. The paranoia has not decreased, but there are even good reasons that have increased the fear of eavesdropping. In the end, that’s what smart speakers do all the time.
Regardless of whether your cell phone is eavesdropping on you or not – there are many ways to access information and profile data. Just think about how the private mode of browsers doesn’t protect consumer privacy – to see it firsthand. And of course there is much more sensitive data that the consumer does not know exactly what it means in terms of data protection.
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No personal data?
An in-depth analysis by the New York Times examined a sample of geolocation data generated by apps and mobile devices. It has been concluded that this data makes it possible to identify the consumer very precisely. With just this sample they were able to uncover, for example, the story of an engineer who had interviewed a competitor, or what high-ranking people in the US government were doing and where they were walking around. All of this data was lawfully acquired.
Telecommunication operators and Internet companies assert again and again that the data generated with navigation and mobile connections are completely anonymous: The information is anonymized and thus no longer allows any conclusions to be drawn about a specific consumer, it is transformed into data about how consumers in general feel behavior. No specific consumer, but the market should be outlined.
Advertising works because it learns from what society does, but not so much from what individuals do.
But to what extent is all of this real? The Times investigation suggests that information can indeed be dangerous. While humans become anonymous points that can be clearly tracked on the map, it is not difficult to intersect this information with other data and thus unravel who really this unnamed point moving on the map is.
The New York Times investigation began with a leak: an anonymous person leaked a geolocation record to the newspaper: the type of information collected by cellular companies and passed on to third parties to be able to analyze them and deliver products and advertising appropriately. In other words, information that we consumers disclose without thinking too much about it – and that we suspect is harmless. It may also be data that we are not fully aware of how we will use it.
The Times spoke to someone who had managed to identify an American singer from all this data. Not only did she have no idea what data the app could have generated, but she was also a person who actually cares about the protection of her privacy. She even restricted access and access to her data in the app.
The negative potential of the data
All of the data the companies used – and then filtered through to the Times – was 100 percent legally obtained. Of course, this data is used for advertising purposes and to analyze companies. They influence advertisements on the Internet as well as corporate strategies.
However, as the Times points out, all of this data could be much more dangerous. Not only could they become a form of control over society, but they could also become far more dangerous if they fall into the hands of cyber criminals.
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