Data Privacy Stripped Naked: What Governments and Corporations Track

Data privacy breach isn’t as far from you as you might think. 99 percent of computers have software vulnerabilities. So hackers, with the right tools, can exploit you.

We’re aware of the imminent dangers of cyber-criminals. But that’s only a side of the coin. On the flip side are corporations and governments.

Most of us have lax security in dealing with governments and corporations. We trust them with our sensitive information. You’re probably not aware that they take your data and erode your freedom. They listen to your phone conversations, track your itinerary, and archive your social media and email contents.

These big brothers know more about you than you know yourself. Twitter archives all your tweets with the Library of Congress. Everything you say they save.

If you’re beginning to wonder if data privacy is an illusion, then you want to keep reading to find out.

The Shocker Judith Got from Tinder

Judith was a French writer and a Tinder user. She fell in love with the dating app from the first moment she said “Hello” to her first Tinder match. So, she used it steadily from then on, getting a total of 840 matches.

Later, Judith decided to request for her data, as is her right according to the EU data protection law. Tinder granted the request and to her horror, sent her 800 pages of information about herself.

The information had such details as her Facebook “likes,” the amount of Facebook friends she has, her education, the type of men that interested her, and her conversation with them, among others.

The amount of information Judith disclosed both surprised and horrified her. But, she’s not the only one. According to a 2017 analysis of the dating app users, people who use Tinder tend to reveal too much information about themselves without knowing it.

Judith is fictitious. But the scenario is real.

Will Google Ever Do the Right Thing?

It’s not only Tinder that collects your information this way. There’s another company you give your information to on a daily basis. It’s the deal you signed when you agreed to use that Android phone, the search engine, and the Gmail account. That’s right. It’s Google.

Not only does Google have your full name, phone number, contacts, and every information related to the use of your Android phone, they also track your web activity. Every time you surfed the internet when you thought you were alone, either watching pornography or gambling, Google was there with you. They sit silently in the background, collecting data about your interests, interactions, and behaviors.

Even Facebook is currently facing an accusation of using third-party apps to violate data protection laws by sharing users’ data across WhatsApp and Instagram without consent.

What China, America, and Britain Share in Common

The most significant invasion of data privacy, as you can imagine comes from the government. The Chinese government is developing a Social Credit System which evaluates its citizens.

Imagine a system where data about your behavior is collected and rated as either positive or negative. Everything you do would be harvested, analyzed and distilled down to a figure, your Citizen’s score.

Your rating would be publicly ranked and compared with 1.6 billion other people as a basis for knowing if you are trustworthy. This evaluation would determine if you’ll be able to get a job or mortgage.

China is not an exception. The United States Government and the British government have also taken data privacy breach to an entirely new height.

According to a 2013 classified document leak, American and British spies infiltrated the fantasy game, “World of Warcraft and Second Life.” They collected data and communication content between players. And then, these US and Brit spies created a bogus character to analyze players of the online fantasy game. They checked for militants dressed as “elves” among them and recruited informers.

The NSA explained the infiltration as a precaution. They feared the game was an excellent platform for terrorists and criminal networks to meet, move money and plot attacks.

They are Mining Your Digital Footprint

The NSA is collecting billions of data every day from tracking mobile phone users around the world. They reportedly infected 50,000 computers with malware with the purpose of gathering user data. They even collect data from your Google and Yahoo accounts.

Indeed, it’s looking like data privacy is an illusion.

The fact that 86 percent of internet users have taken steps to hide their digital footprint shows that people value their data privacy.

There is one question you have to ask here.

Why the massive breach of data privacy? Two words to summarize the answer—data mining.

What is Data Mining?

Data mining is searching through large amounts of data for patterns and trends to predict future events.

data mining algorithms often require large data sets for the creation of quality models.

This insatiable quest for data begs other questions. What data are they collecting? Why are they retrieving these data? How do they get data from you?

The Data They Collect

The data collected differs with each corporation. Let’s start with the company that knows you more than anyone in the world, Google.

What Google Knows About You

More than any other corporation, Google has the most ways of collecting your data. They have so much access to your personal information that it’d creep you out if you knew. These include;

  • Your full name, gender, and birthdate on your Android device
  • Your phone numbers on your Android device
  • Your Google searches through the search engine
  • All the websites you’ve ever visited through the Chrome browser
  • Your daily schedule through Google calendar
  • Where you’ve been over the past several years through Google maps
  • Your interests (games, food and drink and more) through Chrome browser and other Google services
  • Where you work and live
  • The YouTube videos you’ve watched and your YouTube searches
  • A recording of your voice when you interact with a Google assistant

This list isn’t exhaustive at all. You can say that the big corporations know so much about you that they can almost produce your clone.

What the Government Knows About You

While Google has most of your information, the government has more. The data the government collects on a daily basis about you cut across all areas of your life.

Governments collect information on all your online activities. They hold your licensing, educational and professional records. Bank, financial, investments, and income records. Utilities, itinerary and more.

Uncle Sam and his allies know your every move. And have started investing in predicting your future behaviors too.

It’s no wonder the United States Government used $1.2 Billion of taxpayers money to build a data farm. Think of it as a giant external hard drive where they store all the information they collect from you.

What They Do with The Information

Let’s look at what governments and corporations do with your information.

What Google Does with Your Information

Google does not sell your information. At least, that’s the official story. They use your information for improving their service to you and showing you targeted ads. Let’s look at each of what Google does.

Combining Your Personal Information

They collect and connect your information across their platforms. This activity allows them to know your interests, and then they tailor their services accordingly. For example, Google can tell what YouTube video you’d want to watch by using your search engine data.

They Use Your Data to Tailor Adverts

They use your information to tailor their ads. The data Google collects from you influence your search results and the type of ads you’ll see on your browser.

They Share Anonymized Data

Google says they don’t share your data. They only send anonymized data to their partners. These partners include advertisers, publishers, and other connected sites.

They Store Your Information Indefinitely

Google logs your data when you use services like Google Voice and Google Home. They use this information to resolve bugs and also gain insights into their user experience.

It’s easy to identify what they genuinely use your information for – to make money. It’s clear to see that Google is an ad company. The goal of their free services, like YouTube, Android, Drive, Gmail, etc., is to collect data about your interests and behaviors. And then target you with more contextually relevant ads.

In short, Google uses the data collected to make money from ads.

What the Government Does with Your Information

The information collected by the United States government is supposed to be for protecting Americans. But that’s not true anymore. The government use the data collected for

  • Singling out protesters
  • Enforcing immigration laws without due process
  • Prosecuting domestic crimes without due process

The government does all these without the consent of American citizens. What’s more? They request your data from Facebook, Google, Yahoo and other social media platforms.

This unethical data collection practice makes us question the sanctity of sacrificing our data privacy for a security mirage.

Data Privacy or National Security

Data mining can be useful in certain situations like collecting information about a known criminal. However, the government has extended its reach beyond that and into the private lives of innocent people. The risk of errors is high, and they’re likely to incriminate innocent citizens.

And then, that chilling effect of knowing that you’re under surveillance for no reason.

No doubt, national security is essential. But, Pew Research found that a large percentage of Americans support data privacy. They see no need to sacrifice civil liberties for the sake of National security.

How Data Collection Can Expose You To Danger

As the saying goes, “it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” Losing your data privacy can expose you to significant danger. Let’s explore some potentially dangerous situations here.

Dangers Linked with The Interpretation

Misinterpretation of data collected is the major challenge with data privacy breach. The US government now gathers more data than it’s capable of analyzing. Unfortunately, Uncle Sam doesn’t put most of the data he collects to any use.

Your post, like or share on social media could come back to label you a terrorist. If your name sounds or suggests that you’re from the Middle East, it could land you on a watch list if you used the word “rocket” in search or social media.

A young Muslim woman once told the media how she’d overthink every post before leaving comments on Facebook. That extra caution was her way of avoiding overzealous law enforcement agents.

The NSA runs surveillance in which it presumes the data they collect will provide answers. But depersonalized data erodes the real intent of the persons under watch.

Erosion of Privacy

Back in May 2017, different computers across the world had a malware that locked the users out of their computers. To gain access to their files again, computer owners had to pay a ransom. Hence the name ransomware.

The tools used to create the wannacry malware reportedly came from the NSA. Software tools from the NSA have been used for ransomware attacks – twice in 2017 alone.

In short, the NSA is not impregnable. Hackers can gain access to their servers, and your information would fall into the wrong hands.

Both governments and corporations are vulnerable. Facebook admitted a data privacy breach in 2013 that left 6 million users exposed.

Your Information Can Become Tools for Blackmail

Hackers have made the concept of data privacy a joke in recent times. Your webcam can be switched on and emails accessed. Imagine the wealth of information a hacker could get if he or she gains access to your Google account.

Data collection gives hackers a treasure trough of useful data to steal. They could get hold of your credit card information and empty your bank account. In other cases, you could be asked to pay a ransom to keep your information private.

Data Security Wrap Up

Governments and big corporations – not just hackers – are out to erode your data privacy. The former does it on the guise of security. The latter for profit.

You might not be able to do anything about the NSA reading your emails, but you can reduce Google’s access. Start with limiting the information you share with Google and use other proven techniques to prevent data privacy breaches.

Cut down on social media use. Remember Judith’s experience with Tinder? Big brother is always watching.