Have we lost control of our data ?
Billions of people are surfing on the Internet every day, offering a huge amount of information about them. Put together, those pieces of information tell much more about us than we think. But who is really collecting our data and what do they do with it?
What are Digital traces ?
Every time we use digital technologies, we leave digital traces behind us, which are stored in data centers all over the world. From your location, your browser history, your mailbox and all the tools you use on the Internet, it is possible to create your digital profile. Some of those traces are visible, but most of them are not.
Cookies for example, register all your moves through the digital world. A cookie is a file dropped on your computer by the website you visit. The idea is to remember you when you come back on the site. But when you go on this site, you actually send data to all the other sites related to it. It the best way to track you as you go across the web.
Who collects it ?
It is mostly companies whose business model is entirely based on data of monetization collect the informations, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook or Apple (GAFA). But it is also their “partners” and “third parties”, such as advertisers, retailers and all sorts of Internet companies.
As it is forbidden to sell users data without their consent, those big companies often use unclear data policies not to break the law. But in the end, you have no choice.
Smartphone is the best illustration of data collection. Your operator, as much as all the apps of your phone can collect data without you even notice it. Whether it is your location, your relations, your habits or your physical activity, you provide way more data than you think to a whole range of different actors, some more legitimate than others. Once gathered, all the data provided are centralised and analysed.
What are they used for?
Most of the services and tools we daily use on the Internet are free. Yet, the companies ruling this digital space are the richest companies in the world. Their business model is no longer a secret for anyone: “if it’s free, you are the product”. Maybe shall we say : “your data is the product”. These data are used in 3 different ways: to measure, to predict and to make money.
Their first job is to measure. Used a statistical tool they can determine the state of a company for instance.
They can also be used as a predictive tool. The aim is to find correlations between users to predict the behavior of others. By doing so, the companies can offer services always more adjusted to the profile of each user and so make sure to maintain their dependence.
Ultimately, your data is a gold mine for advertisers. What’s being tracked is your behavior more than your identity. Data help advertisers to understand what you’re interested in. From all the data they collect, they can draw very precise consumer profiles, target their campaigns and is the end, sell more products.
What can we do to protect us ?
Current legislations are far too insufficient and failed in setting limits about tracking and data collection. The answer has to come from users themselves, who can learn how to minimize their digital traces.
Leaving digital traces is unavoidable, but there are things you can do to keep them out of corporate hands. It is about applying you self-security policy, by using alternative tools, changing the settings of your devices or installing software to block trackers. These are simple ways to protect your personal information but can turn out to be very relevant.