You may have noticed that Congress has always been busy trying to reign in big tech, looking to break up their hold on consumers and ultimately make things more competitive. Within all of the talk that’s going back and forth, the concept of how much private information those big tech companies collect has become a central issue, because privacy advocates feel that too much information is collected without permission.
While the bulk of the talk from Congress is on potential antitrust violations, it doesn’t appear that the courts feel the same way. So under grueling testimony, in 2021, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google, and then Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey discussed how privacy is a big focus of the tech giants. Previously, Tim Cook of Apple has testified, and in fact Apple recently introduced its Apple Tracking Transparency policy that will begin with IOS 14 and require app developers to ask permission from consumers when collecting information for advertising purposes.
Privacy vs. the Bottom Line
While privacy is really a huge concern to consumers and Congress, the bottom line is still the main focal point of Facebook, Google and Apple. Apple privacy issues, as well as those of Facebook and Google, seem to take a back seat when revenue is introduced into the picture. It’s hard to blame the tech companies, as their business model is based on gathering data (called data mining) and using it to target consumers for their advertisers. It’s what drives their bottom line, and what generates all the money they make in order to improve their products and bring new services to market.
Despite what some zealots think, none of the big tech companies are “spying” on consumers. Rather, they’re merely collecting data and information on their surfing habits, buying patterns and internet usage. Every time you log on, you click and type and search the Internet, and all of that information is collected, stored and sold to others. Sure, it would be nice if those companies asked your permission before doing this, but most of them have – you’re just not aware of it. The reason: nobody really reads the privacy agreement that you “agree” to when signing up for the services of Facebook, Google and Apple. It’s in there, even if it’s buried in some legal mumbo-jumbo. You simply need to read it and be aware of what you’re agreeing to.
The Big Tech’s Data Collection:
Each one of the 3 “big tech” companies has their own data collection practices and methods, so it pays to understand what they’re collecting and what they use the data for. That makes you an “aware consumer” – and when it comes to what happens with your personal data, that’s a very important issue.
In case you weren’t aware of it, Facebook also owns Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, so they’re one of the largest data collectors in the universe. All of your personal details are collected, and that includes all of your activity while using Facebook and its affiliates. All of your friends, groups, messenger activity, and searches are recorded, analyzed, and categorized – then sold to advertisers. Remember: you agreed to this when you signed up for Facebook, so you can’t opt out of any specific area that isn’t to your liking. You’re all-in, period.
Your personal Internet use is exposed to Facebook, including IP addresses you visit, how many times you visit those addresses, your advertiser engagement, and many other personal surfing habits are used by Facebook. If you’d like to see how far a reach Facebook has into your data collection, check out “Your Facebook Information Portal” and download what data they’ve collected on you. It’s guaranteed to be a real eye-opener!
So, what does Facebook do with this data? If you look at their business model, Facebook thrives by collecting and using the data to send highly targeted ads to its billions of users. That’s what they do, and they’ll tell you that’s all they do. But they’ll also tell you they don’t sell your information; rather, they only collect ad targets from their partners and users and then create company-specific ad initiatives for clients.
Every keystroke and entry you type into Google is stored, including your searches, the emails that you read and send, what locations you search, what apps you’re using, and all of your YouTube viewing history. That’s a lot of personal data! If you’d like to see what they collect on you, use Google’s Takeout – their export tool that lets you download the data they’ve collected.
As with Facebook, Google tells you it won’t sell your data. Instead, it creates targeted advertising – which makes up about 90% of its revenues. So while it’s not “selling,” it’s earning a ton of money regardless.
Apple believes your private information belongs to you – and Apple is very privacy-focused. Just listen to Tim Cook speak, and you’ll understand why Apple goes the extra mile to keep its customers’ private information – private. Most of the information Apple collects has to do with its own products, like FaceTime usage, iMessage, iCloud, photos, maps, and more.
Like Facebook and Google, Apple doesn’t actually sell your data, but it does sell access to its customers. Advertisers love to have a direct pipeline to Apple customers, and Apple provides that to them. You’ll find many stories in the news about how vigorously Apple defends its customers’ privacy, and it’s admirable. But at the same time, it’s making all of its customers accessible to advertisers, which while different from giving up private information or access to customer phones and computers, it’s still walking a very fine line when it comes to privacy.
To learn more, be sure to look at each company’s privacy agreement so you know what you’ve agreed to with respect to the data and information that they’re willing to share about you.
What Can You Do?
The easiest and most effective way is to never use the above-mentioned platforms. You can also stop using the Internet, and your phone, and computer, and…. what else? Well, pretty much everything that collects your data. However, it’s not for everyone. We live in the world of social media, and we want to stay connected and keep up. Consequently, there should be other methods. And there are.
First, read the data collection policy. Yes, it’s usually long, but it’s worth it. This way, you’ll know what kind of your personal details will be sold to advertisers. Second, check your phone’s permissions for installed apps. And third, try to “observe” what kind of your data is stored online. To do this, you can just google yourself and see what the search will bring you.
A wealth of information is stored on people search websites. However, most of people search engines make it easy to remove the data they have gathered. Nuwber, for example, has the “Remove my info” section, where you can opt out just by simply filling out the form.