Of course, everybody already knew that Big Tech was in the business of collecting data on us to sell to advertisers. But did you know that they’re also selling information about us to U.S. federal agencies? Oh, yes.
They’re collecting data on us from many different services and using artificial intelligence to create “secret identities” to better understand our personality traits (!) and purchasing behavior. Typically, you have no way of knowing how they’re doing this, as it’s disguised through “complicated methods.”
According to the WASHINGTON EXAMINER story, now the government, too, is trying to learn as much as possible about you, in this case to aid itself in making decisions about how to deal with you within the criminal justice system. Isn’t that thoughtful of them?
Facebook scoops up information on its users, who number 2.4 billion people every month, by tracking their browsing history. This means everywhere they go online: the news they read, the books they order, the websites they shop at, even (in some cases; I know this wouldn’t apply to you) the pornography they watch.
And since August of 2019, they’ve been using a tool called “Off-Facebook Activity” to see EXTERNAL browsing activity. In other words, they’re watching everything you do, not just through Facebook. According to this story, “All websites visited and many phone apps send Facebook a user’s digital activity that the social media company then uses to target people with ads.” Some of this is very sensitive and personal medical information, such as an app that a woman can use to track her monthly fertility. Yep, it all goes right to Facebook, without the user’s knowledge or consent.
In fact, even though Facebook’s terms and conditions request that app developers not sent them sensitive health information, this appears to be just for show, as records reveal that they’ve accepted it.
As for Google, the nonprofit digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation says Google “gathers user data to build profiles of people using their interests, location and demographics to let advertisers target particular groups of people based on those certain traits, and second, it shares some of its data with advertisers directly and requests them to bid on individual ads.”
Google also is free to sell data about you to third parties, and, of course, they do. In fact, two of the biggest third-party ad companies have actually been bought by Google, so as these companies become more dominant, it means more profits for Google because everything is in-house. It’s a cozy system, and also a complicated one; if you’d like to see more detail about how this works, it’s in the EXAMINER story.
Google has a program called “Custom Match” in which its advertisers can ask for the specific types of users they want to reach and Google then places the ads that advertisers buy. You know how it works: if you click on one of those Google ads, you’re sent directly to the advertiser’s website, where you can browse and shop. But did you also know that once you’re there, the ADVERTISER can also collect your location, browsing history, and more? (I assume they, in turn, also can sell your information, just like Google.)
Through a database called SensorVault, Google also sends information directly to law enforcement. Your geographical location, collected by cellphone towers and GPS signals even when you’re not making calls, is stored indefinitely. “The data is so precise,” the EXAMINER says, “that one deputy police chief [said] ‘it shows the whole pattern of life.’” They know everywhere you go and where you have been.
Finally, there’s Amazon. This behemoth offers even more extensive services to its advertisers because of the accuracy of data not just from browsing but from actual purchases and deliveries. THE NEW YORK TIMES has reported that Amazon gives other companies direct data on you, including delivery addresses and credit cards used. And even after you leave Amazon.com, they track your online behavior on other websites. Again, you’ll have no knowledge of this, so wherever you go, just assume they’re doing it. As the saying goes, you’re not paranoid if it’s really happening.
Whenever you download a “free” app, your personal data is being taken from you without your knowledge or consent. That used to be called “stolen,” but the fine print in the agreements that nobody reads gives them “permission” to take it. Here’s how they do it and what sorts of information they collect.
Finally, given all this, it might come as no surprise that, according to numerous leaked documents, Amazon intelligence analysts in its “Global Security Operations Center” have even spied on Amazon employees, to circumvent union-organizing activity. This one’s a very interesting read.
Also, Amazon is installing cameras on their trucks that give 360-degree coverage so they can keep an eye on the drivers, and the public as well.
A spokesperson for Amazon said, in part, “Any attempt to sensationalize these activities or suggest we’re doing something unusual or wrong is irresponsible and incorrect.” Far be it from us to sensationalize what they do; we’re just telling you about it. And we would be remiss if we didn’t tell you how this activity can be abused. It can probably be abused in ways we haven’t even though of, but you can bet they have.
Besides, their statement is at least half right, in that spying on people isn’t really all that unusual any more. It’s still wrong, though.
And the fact that Big Tech has the ability and the inclination to do these things suggests how easily the government can coordinate with them to achieve their own ends. We’ll likely never know everything they’re up to.