Author: Gary Hibberd
Date: 13th August 2020
When the UK Government began talking about the ‘Track and Trace’ App during the COVID19 crisis, many people were quite understandably concerned about their privacy and wanted to understand who would have access to the Data and how it would be used.
These concerns are justified and are still largely unresolved. But while I agree with these concerns, I was interested in the response, because we are ALREADY being tracked on a daily basis.
We are tracked online and offline by a range of technologies and organisations, who then share that Data with each other.
Data brokers then ‘mine’ that Data to create customer profiles, and glean valuable information that can be monetised.
According to the website ‘WhoTracksMe’, 91% of the top one million websites track visitors to their sites, and Google trackers are on more than 80% of all websites on the internet. Facebook is in second place, with 26% of websites containing some form of tracking that links back to the social media giant.
Track and field
In her book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”, Shoshana Zuboff, terms this as “surveillance capitalism’. Our Data is the “free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction and sales.”
Our Data is valuable, and therefore we are now the product. Our Data is increasingly shared with Data Brokers, who then sell that Data to others, for a host of reasons. But is this a problem? In short, yes, it’s a problem now, and it’s a problem I believe which is increasingly worrying. To truly understand why, I think it’s worth looking at the average day for a person, and see just what Data they create and how it could be monetised, and potentially used for/against them.
The following story is, of course, fictional, but I would ask you to consider YOUR ‘Data Day Activities’, and think about all the Data you create, and what it could and can be used for.
Anna’s Data Day Activity.
When Anna’s phone alarm ‘chimed’ she slowly turned over, rubbed the sleep from her eyes and reached for her phone. Tapping on the ‘Sleep App’, it told her that her sleep pattern was good and that she had been in bed seven hours and thirty-two minutes, with six of those hours in deep, REM, sleep. Smiling to herself, she swung her legs out of bed and grabbed her running pants, and top; Time for her morning run.
Stepping out onto the street, she put her earphones in, began playing her favourite running tracks, tapped on her watch and activated the running App. Fifty-five minutes later, she was home and clicked on the App once more. Her pace was up, her time was better than last week, and her heart rate was slightly higher than she had hoped; Time for a shower.
Health (BPM), biometric indicators, sleep habits, musical taste, location.
Anna had considered changing her car for some time, and today was the day to do a little research, but after thirty minutes of searching online, she was already bored and began researching holidays instead. Thankfully she already had a good idea of where she would like to go for a short break; London. It was her favourite city, and it was perfect for a single woman to enjoy a night out with friends and catch a show or two. Within the hour, she had found the perfect hotel, made dinner reservations for a night out and bought two tickets to a West End show.
Location, credit card, age, gender, search history, buying indicators, purchasing interests/preferences, relationships,
As a freelance marketing executive, Anna had access to a number of clients websites, and social media feeds, which she was expected to manage on a day-to-day basis. Logging into a number of clients social media sites, she provided additional content and information, all based on the clients own Content Marketing Plans.
Unfortunately, things had slowed recently, due to COVID19, so reluctantly, she logged into the job-hunting site and began searching the vacant roles. After a short while searching, and uploading her CV to a number of sites, she decided to give it a break and began updating her FaceBook and LinkedIn accounts.
As marketing exec, she understands the power of social media, so was keen to connect with a few people, and join a few groups so she could do a little ‘virtual networking’.
Client login details, work history, contacts and connections, images, work preferences, search history, location, age, likes and dislikes, email address, telephone number.
Turning her attention to LinkedIn and Facebook was a great way for Anna to meet people, and reminded her that there was one site she hadn’t updated or checked for some time. Reaching for her phone, she clicked on the Dating App and thumbed through the ‘matches’ and the ‘likes’ she had received.
She had considered ditching the App after hearing some negative feedback by users, claiming that the App wasn’t “secure”. But Anna didn’t see what the fuss was all about, and was pretty impressed with the latest batch of ‘matches’ she had received. Putting the phone down, she smiled to herself, and resolved to update her profile with new images and details, and respond to some of the matches she had received, later.
Gender, images, sexual orientation, sexual preferences, financial status, age, date of birth, location, personality traits, marital status.
Other than her work, Anna’s other passion in life was food! In particular, she loved Mexican food. Finishing her work for the day, she searched the web for inspiration. After a short search, she found an excellent recipe for “Cheesy Mexican Cauliflower Rice”. Realising that she had only just enough for tonight’s meal, she decided to add the ingredients to her online shopping app, so that it would be ready and available when she placed her order later.
Credit card, email address, telephone number, shopping behaviours, food preferences, address, usage behaviours, search history.
Anna slumped onto the sofa, and idly thumbed through her dating App, as she scanned through the channels on ‘catch-up’ TV. She wasn’t sure which she was more interested in at this stage, but after several rather dull, and ‘predictable’ conversations with her online-matches, she decided to watch a TV show.
Usage behaviours, search history, viewing preferences, messaging content
Switching off the TV, Anna reached for her phone. No more messages from her ‘matches’, she decided it was time to call it a day. Before heading to bed, she changed the heating via the ‘Hive’ App on her phone. It had begun to get a little chiller over recent days, so changing the App would mean the heating would be on a little longer, and come on a little earlier too.
After going through her usual bed-time routine, Anna climbed into bed, set her alarm on the Sleep App, and placed her phone next to her bed.
Staring into the darkness, she knew she was tired but sleep seemed to allude her. “Alex. Play ‘Good Night Playlist'”. Almost immediately, the soft robotic voice replied; “Sure thing. Now playing “Good Night Playlist.”
As soft music began to play, Anna turned over and closed her eyes. It had been a busy day, and in her mind a productive one too.
Music preferences, health, biometric indicators, usage behaviours, voice recordings (conversations)
Watching Anna go through her day, I hope it gave you some pause-for-thought about your day. There are many other aspects of Anna’s life we could have explored; Perhaps her use of the ‘Ring’ device in her home, or the SMART TV she owns, which is connected to the games console. We could have discussed her car, which has GPS and a tracking device, for her own protection.
We are creating data in ways, and in volumes that we never dreamt possible. It’s true to say that the data collection sector is now a behemoth that interacts in all parts of our daily lives. You simply can’t escape being part of this digital universe.
As we discovered above, by taking a look at Anna’s day, those of us who have mobile devices, and work online cannot avoid creating Data. This is then tracked, and used by those sites and Apps we interact with so that they can (in their words) provide enhanced services to us.
People often ask the question; “Is this site/App secure?” Perhaps a better question is; “Is this site/App secure and do they respect my Privacy?”
If the organisation DOES respect your privacy, then they wouldn’t track you, once you leave their website (Facebook and Google, are you listening? (the answer is, probably!)). If they respect your privacy, they wouldn’t sell your Data to Data Brokers.
We need to be aware that Data tracking is practically inescapable. And if we are aware, we can begin to do something about it. It’s down to each of us to be aware, and care about this Data sharing practice that is going on all around us.
Only by caring about what is happening can we begin to sleep a little better at night. Let’s hope Anna does too.
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