On-line Privateness and The Worth of Our Knowledge – The Arapahoe Pinnacle
Data protection is something we all value, but we don’t always pay attention to it. This has never been more true than in the age of the internet, where something as simple as what we do and what we look at can now be sold to the highest bidder. Almost every company we interact with online is in this business in some way. All kinds of data, from the websites you visit, what you post online, to where you move your mouse, are recorded and available. With such a clear invasion of privacy, it’s crazy to think that we won’t take any further steps to prevent it.
When you browse the Internet, you are not just viewing the websites you visit anonymously. Instead, your computer actively asks for information, processes that information, and then shows you that information at the end. While this method works great and is the backbone of everything on the internet, it has one major flaw. Because our computers ask for information, a website can easily tell where your computer is. By also capturing the unique differences between different computers such as screen size, browser, cookies, and even your fonts, a website can create a unique “fingerprint” of your computer. By combining these two pieces of information, services can easily track their users on their own website. With the advent of services like Google Analytics or Google Ads, it has become possible to track users outside of a single website. To use these services, a website owner just needs to embed a small amount of code provided by companies like Google or Facebook and they have instant access to a wide range of monetization and analytics products, with the basic products being completely free. Of course, nothing is free. Unfortunately, the cost of these services is the user data they can collect. Data is a very powerful tool. With all data collected company can create a detailed and detailed profile about almost anyone. By using the profiles that companies like Google and Facebook have about us, they can sell hyper-targeted commercials that are tailored to each individual. This is where the debate about online data protection begins.
Advertising has always been an area that is critical to the success of any business. Ads have always worked on the premise of product placement. The aim of the ads is to promote a product or to link ideas to a product. (Campbell et al. 329) For the ad to be as effective as possible, it needs to be marketed to the right audience. In more traditional media formats, there isn’t much more control than choosing which billboard or radio station the ad appears on. However, traditional advertising methods cannot be fully effective because they need to be seen by people outside the target audience. Promoting niche products is even more difficult in a traditional format. If a product has no attractiveness for the mass market, it must waste impressions on people who were not interested in the product at all.
The invention of the internet completely uprooted the traditional advertising model. The data that companies have about their users opens up the possibility of targeted advertisements. Through targeted ads, an advertiser can directly select the groups of people who will view their ads. This will limit the number of false impressions and provide the customer with much better value. However, when this practice is taken to the limit, those slightly targeted advertising turns into hyper-targeted advertising. It’s not uncommon to hear stories from people discussing how they talked about something. Then they went online and saw an ad for exactly what they were discussing. While seeing ads related to your interests may be considered a good thing for some, instead, many view it as a serious invasion of their privacy. Customizing ads based on the websites you’ve viewed in the past, however, is just the beginning. According to Wired Magazine, “These companies are engaged in what is known as behavioral advertising, which enables companies to base their marketing on what users are looking for, all the way down to their moods and menstrual cycles, which comes from whatever they do on their devices and devices do in every place they take them. “(Edelman)
Social media companies have proven time and again that while they are able to collect a large amount of data about us, they cannot trust it at all. One of the greatest examples of this was the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It revolved around Facebook’s loose security policies regarding the amount of data third-party apps had access to on people’s Facebook accounts. In this case, Facebook allowed third-party apps to access the data of friends of users who authenticated with the app. Cambridge Analytica was able to abuse this loophole and buy data on tens of millions of Americans. They then used this data from unwilling Americans to influence the 2016 elections. (Lapowsky) Most of all, this shows that social media companies cannot be trusted to implement policies to protect their users’ data. In particular, data that can be used to create a full profile of a person’s personality and behavior.
Data protection should be an important issue for many reasons. Not only do social media companies passively create detailed profiles for their users, but users often fail to understand the amount of data that is being collected on them. The sole purpose of a social media network is to collect data and effectively group their users into groups on behalf of selling hyper-targeted ads. If a company is primarily collecting data, it is important to hold it accountable for the privacy and security of its users. Because adequate privacy and ethical tracking policies are directly at odds with business results, you cannot assume that they are self-regulating. Instead, there needs to be sufficient regulation to prevent unethical practices. With regulations like the GDPR of the European Union or the general data protection regulation and the antitrust lawsuit recently filed against Facebook by the FTC, the beginning of change is signaling. At this point, one of the best ways to stand up in the fight for privacy is to get the word out and get the word out, as well as contact your senators to demonstrate your support for a more ethical and private future of the internet.
Campbell, Richard et al. Media & Culture: Mass Communication in the Digital Age. Bedford / St. Martin, 2019
Edelman, Gilad. Why don’t we just ban targeted advertising?. Wired, 2020,
Lapowsky, Issie. How Cambridge Analytica started the great privacy awakening. Wired, 2019, https://www.wired.com/story/cambridge-analytica-facebook-privacy-awakening/