The Truth Behind Our Personal Data Online

Daniel Barrientos, Copy Editor

Technology: Always advancing, always evolving, taking over every second of our lives. According to Statista, on average, we spend six hours a day, fifty hours a week and one hundred eighty hours a month exclusively connected to our smartphones. On a bigger scale, an average person can spend more than six years of their lives on smartphones. Now, just imagine how much information you are unconsciously putting out there while doing so. 

The time in minutes we spend online translates to the Gigabytes of our private information released into the cyber world. It becomes vulnerable, giving access to almost anyone online. Believe it or not, released information favors companies, making them know about our main interests. For example, whenever you are scrolling through your Instagram feed an ad of a jersey from your favorite football team will pop up. The thing is, most of us are not aware of the immense effort multi-billion dollar tech companies like Google, Amazon and Apple go through to manipulate our purchasing behaviors based on our personal data. According to OneZero, “Amazon and Google are willing to sell their smart speakers at a low price that almost guarantees they’ll lose money on the transaction because they’ll almost certainly make that money back with your data and future purchases.” You see, that way of easily purchasing that new smartwatch online is not a coincidence after all. It is all part of a complex, profoundly coordinated marketing strategy made to lure us in, to then buy the product, whether we like it or not.  

Here is how it works: you set up an account for any internet company, they collect all of your key information, location, age, phone number, social media address and recently visited websites. All that information is later stored and organized in their database. This data is then sold to third party entities like “Coca Cola,” who can buy this information to target their advertisements to people like you. All of a sudden, you find yourself surrounded by ads and offers on products that surprisingly fit your needs and interests. Is it some sort of magic? Well, not really. What they have actually done is selectively program your account to understand your behavior and interests in order to accommodate ads according to what you might want to buy. An example of one of the biggest and most influential companies out there that does this is Facebook. Precisely the same company that was recently sued by the US government for privacy violations on users. 

The problem with personal data online has risen even more since the groundbreaking documentary “The Great Hack” was released on Netflix. This documentary tells the story of how a firm named Cambridge Analytica was able to manipulate US citizens to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. According to The Guardian, “Cambridge Analytica shut down in 2018 after it came out that the company improperly accessed data on tens of millions of Facebook users (Facebook ended up with a $5 billion fine from federal regulators.)” Their services ran through Facebook to profile and classify potential voters for Trump. Since the release of this film, the problems surrounding personal data protection online have awakened the planet. 

As mentioned previously, Cambridge Analytica Ltd was a British political consulting firm which combined misappropriation of digital assets, data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication during the electoral processes The real problem begins when companies like these start to understand the power that personal data has over people and make it into a potential political weapon available to the highest bidder. It is of such proportions that the problem is still going on today, resulting in the violation of democracy itself. 

All of this ended with the vast majority of its associates, presidents, and vice-presidents fined and sent to jail in the UK. The BBC stated that,  “In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, firms have scrambled to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, in Europe at least. But the damage is already done. Our personal data is out there, and we have lost control of it.” It is truly disgusting to see how far tech companies have gone to make us slaves to their empires, to the point where we are not only manipulated to buy their products but manipulated to vote for their preferred candidate. “The reason why Google and Facebook are the most powerful companies in the world is that last year, data surpassed oil in value, so data is the most valuable asset on earth,“ Britney Keiser, a former Cambridge Analytica employee, said. This shows how it’s crucial to understand just how dangerous the mismanagement and manipulation of personal data can become, to the point where the electoral process of a whole country can be manipulated by profiling voters and influencing their decisions through targeted ads, personality tests and recollection of data the user is unaware about.

The reality is that with each day that passes by, we do nothing more than immersing ourselves in a dangerous and artificial world of technology, where our data is processed, sold and used countless times to those trying to influence us.