The ABCs of Data Collection and Misuse of Your Personal Information

What is so bad about sharing your information publically online? Who cares if you post a few selfies on social media? Is this not a great time for information to flow freely, opening doors for people and communities worldwide, allowing us to express and share our thoughts across the globe?

On the one hand, it is great to feel free to express oneself on public platforms like Facebook and to conduct harmless searches on search engines like Google. But, with powerful forces like that, what often follows is people wanting to take advantage. Fake news, political manipulation, and a growing threat to our democracy, are just a few of the negative effects we’ve witnessed.

We know how data collection sounds – boring and complicated. What even is an algorithm, and what does that have to do with my digital privacy? Most of us are turned off by wording that we don’t completely understand. We fail to see the simplicity behind it, and the very serious danger in what is the biggest invasion of privacy of our time.

Let’s break it down. What exactly happens when you post a picture on Instagram? Well, probably nothing that you’d expect would happen. On the surface, it doesn’t seem so dangerous; no one is knocking down your door or stealing money from your account. Instead it’s happening quietly, and affecting you in ways you will not see – at least not right away.

Once you put something into Cyberspace, or go about surfing the Web, companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft etc. are able to “track” what you do, what you say, what you buy, etc. (mostly using cookies) and they turn what you do on their websites into one big profile. This profile helps them identify who you are – what your political beliefs are, your sexual preference, behavior, and so on – so they can sell this information to third parties. Not only does this mean that you involuntarily get ads of products they know you might buy, but they also use this to affect your opinion, and to keep track of you, in case you do something they don’t want you to do.

Social media uses algorithms to filter and organize their platforms for you, but also to feed you information that they think you want. For example, Instagram uses an algorithm that looks at your search history to see how interested you’d be in an individual post. If you have searched for accounts that post about interior design, the Instagram algorithm will see that and recommend similar posts to you. This explains why you get ads on frying pans a few seconds after you just bought one. It’s creepy when that happens, isn’t it? It’s even creepier when it is a political meme or even an ad disguised as a post, whose purpose it is to sway you to the “left” or “right”.

Yeah, it sounds pretty serious at this point. The thing is that this has been escalating for a while now. Let’s name some examples of data breaches:

Data breaches happen often, and all over the world, affecting millions of people. Still, they’re being sugar-coated with “I don’t care, because I have nothing to hide.” Even if you don’t feel like you have anything to hide, your information is still being used to track, analyze, sell, and eventually threaten you and your human rights. We made a timeline of some of the things that happen as soon as you post a photo on social media. Take a look:

This is not something that could happen to you in a worst case scenario – if you’ve posted a photo on your social media, this has already happened to you. With some tweaks depending on what the photo is of, of course. You do not need to be a tech expert to understand what is going on. You are dealing with a huge invasion of your privacy. Daily. So yes, you should care, and you should also act.

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