18 Mar

Bringing together multiple data sources is “how data-brokers have information such as personality profiles and relationship statuses”

Bringing together multiple data sources is “how data-brokers have information such as personality profiles and relationship statuses”

The recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how our data is being used and abused. This can not be stressed enough. The internet is increasingly a worldwide web of corporate surveillance and it’s impossible to piece together a complete picture of how your personal information – both your online and offline data – is being utilised. While behemoths such as Facebook are guaranteed to make headlines, there’s a lot less media scrutiny of the thousands of other companies that make a living out of extracting and exploiting your personal life in extremely dubious ways.

The software company Pixoneye, for example, is far from a household name. But if you have granted an app permission to access your photos in the past, there’s a good chance you have allowed it to utilise Pixoneye’s tech. This scans the photos on your phone and uses the data it extracts to create a story of who you are. It might characterise you as someone who watches sports, for example, or as wine-drinker who enjoys lots of family holidays. Your photo gallery offers a staggering amount of insight: as the CEO of Pixoneye wrote in an op-ed last year: “Our smartphone image galleries have in many ways become a reflection of our lives … each image you have stored contains a range of data attributes and meta tags that not only reveal your past purchasing profile, but can also be the key to predicting what purchases you’re likely to make in the future.”

So, you might be thinking, an app knows I like wine, and uses that information to sell me stuff. What’s the big deal? In isolation, not much. But, as Kaltheuner stresses, “when combined, data can reveal a lot”. The more data points you have, the more you can predict.

Even more alarmingly, accounts I had deleted ages ago – such as the dating app Bumble – still seemed to have access to my Facebook information

If you’re starting to feel jittery about the exploitation of your personal data but aren’t ready to delete social media and go and live off the grid, there are some simple steps you can take to mitigate your digital footprint. “We should all do a little digital spring cleaning,” advises Leila Hassan, head of analytics at the London branch of Ogilvy, a global advertising agency. “Check what [third-party apps] you’ve enabled through your social channels. I’ll bet most of us still have things enabled from years ago.”

In order to examine the apps you have enabled through Facebook, go to settings and click “Apps” on the left sidebar. When I did that I was somewhat alarmed to find that I had given 68 apps indefinite access to my Facebook data.

As the Cambridge Analytica investigation revealed, even a few dozen Facebook “likes” can strongly predict someone’s sexual orientation, or the political party they are most likely to vote for

Once on this page, it’s easy to revoke permission for particular apps to access your data. It’s much harder, however, to view or remove the data they have already collected. Facebook informs you that you should “contact the developer of the app” if you want to get rid of the data they have collected. I didn’t really feel like contacting the developer of 68 different apps before deleting my Facebook account so I am unclear about the fate of the data they have https://hookupdate.net/reveal-review/ amassed. Presumably it’s all floating around in the cloud somewhere.

For my part, the Cambridge Analytica story was the nudge I needed to finally cut ties with the social network. I’ve been trying to extricate myself from Facebook for a long time. My uneasiness with the network largely stems from the fact that I used to work in advertising and, for years, was on the receiving end of many a sales pitch from Facebook, Google and other companies that have built businesses trading in users’ data.

Other data experts echo Noble’s view. As Frederike Kaltheuner, who leads the data exploitation programme at the charity Privacy International, explains: “You can delete your Facebook, but you will still be tracked in your online and increasingly also your offline life. Mobile phones are by definition a tracking device.”

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