Are you being watched by tech giants?


Following the outrage due to the updated TOS of WhatsApp, a lot of users have become cautious of the amount of data (or metadata) associated with them being stored by such companies. This is especially applicable to the Tech Giants as they own predominant market share. Due to high dependency on the Internet on account of increasing online integration, it is required for users to stay acquainted with it. Due to this, they are required to use one of the offered services by the tech giants. This isn’t a concern as these services tend to fulfil the requirements posed by the users.

But the problem arises when these services do more than what was required (was applicable?). This extra work may be anything from Monitoring Usage, Collecting Device/Location Info, Obtaining Cookies or anything along those lines. In this article we will analyse how much information associated with the users do these tech giants have.

Common Knowledge

It is a Common Knowledge at this point that the services that we use online and offline, both require some additional information for them to work properly. This is plausible as the additional information is generally used to improve the user experience. Major tech companies are vocal on their requirement of this additional data. But the same can’t be said about the way in which this data is utilized.

The above statement about “Information extraction by User Consent” holds true for Tech Giants (renowned ones), but the same can’t be said for obscure tech companies. As they aren’t obliged to comply with industry standards, and can require (or maybe extract) data without user consent.

Problem Bit

A lot of users aren’t aware of the value that the data associated with them has. In today’s world, information has a value of its own. This information can be utilised (or exploited) for varying uses. How this information could be used, would become a lot more explicit from the following example.

Tom wants to buy a refrigerator. So, he searches for a refrigerator on Amazon.com. Tom wasn’t satisfied with the results and decided not to buy a refrigerator. 

The next day Tom was surfing over the internet. While doing so adverts related to refrigerators were appearing on the websites he visits. This astonished Tom, as the day before he was doing a lookup for refrigerators!

How could the above have happened?

Apparently Amazon.com would have stored the query regarding refrigerators (either locally or on their servers) which got shared/accessed by the website (or the browser/search engine) Tom visited. This allowed the website to show targeted advertisements.

Spying?

Yes! And No! While the information provided a closer insight about the users it isn’t necessarily used for nefarious means. Though it could be used for such deeds.

Helplessness

More or less, Yes! If we were to use services offered by these tech giants, we have to allow them to have/use some information regarding us. The only freedom we have is to choose how much of it are we willing to share, and whom we trust our information with. This freedom was seen in action when a lot of the users of WhatsApp transitioned over to its alternatives (Signal, Telegram etc) after the updates company announced which were quite dubious.

 

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