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Most people would never dream of letting corporate marketing executives read through all their emails, analyze their phone records and download a complete online search history dating back years. And they would never allow the government to snoop on them via phone, camera or microphone, recording all their daily routines and activities. Quite frankly, that would sound a bit Orwellian. So why, then, have we given this same power to Google and Facebook?
How much data do companies like Facebook and Google really have?
The amount of data that these two Internet giants have collected on everybody is simply staggering. Google knows where you’ve been, because it stores your location data from your phone. And Google also knows everything you’ve ever searched. Even if you think you’ve been particularly clever and have taken steps to delete files from your Google Drive or delete your search history, guess what? Google stores information across various devices, so simply scrubbing data on one device is not going to stop Google. By some estimates, Google collects so much data on users that if it were all compiled into a document, it would fill millions of Word documents.
And Facebook, unfortunately, is no different. Facebook has access to nearly 600 MB of data about you, enough to fill nearly half a million Word documents. Facebook may not have access to your full Google search history, but Facebook has access to something perhaps much more valuable – a full summary of your social network as well as a psychographic profile of you. Every like, every friend, every interest, every message – it all gets fed into a massive database that Facebook can use to help advertisers target you with ads.
Looking for a social media alternative
So, what, really can be done at this point? Most of us can’t imagine living a life without Google or Facebook. Sure, we may experiment with a new search engine to preserve our browsing anonymity, or we may tell all our friends that we’re “quitting Facebook” once and for all. But you have to assume that if Facebook and Google are stockpiling data on you, so is everybody else. Right now, Facebook is the favorite whipping boy of the mainstream media, but you can bet that Apple, Twitter, and just about every other company in Silicon Valley is doing their best to slurp up your data as well.
Protecting your social media data
The problem is that these companies that seem to prize our data so much have not taken any steps to safeguard that data. And, in fact, they make it as hard as possible for us to figure out how to turn off all the data collection. Rather than making “opt out” the default setting for privacy, they make “opt in” the default. Of course, they will tell you that they need all that data to give you a superior online experience, but by now, we all know the reality – we’re not paying for their services, so they feel that they can use our data however they’d like. Isn’t that the Faustian bargain that we’ve tacitly signed with Facebook and Google?
New privacy threats on the horizon
With every new technology comes an enhanced ability to peer more intrusively into our lives. The latest technology that has everyone spooked right now are all those AI-powered voice assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home. What corporations couldn’t find out about us from snooping on our online behavior and monitoring our phones, they will soon know from eavesdropping on us in our living rooms and bedrooms. In just a few years, “privacy” might just be a relic of an older, forgotten age.