Google and Facebook are two of the largest and clearest monopolies in the world, and between them, the harvesting of your personal information goes far beyond what most people realize was even possible. Google catches every single thing you do online if you’re using a Google-based feature, and Facebook has a record of everything you’ve ever said or liked. All of this data is being used to build very powerful personality profiles that are sold for profit and used in a variety of different ways.
Ninety eight percent of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertising, totaling $39.9 billion last year alone. The company is now facing a firestorm after The New York Times and British media outlets reported Cambridge Analytica used improperly gleaned data from 87 million Facebook users to influence American voters.
This is not the first time political parties have utilized facebook data without your knowledge, and it won’t be the last. Political parties will continue to fight about who used what data to manipulate voters in the least worst way. What is important to understand is that you and your network of friends are being heavily watched and this data is sold with the intent to manipulate your actions.
This manipulation is not just about politics, it’s making you the product. The intimate details about you, your family and friends are being sold because it is valuable to entities that want to influence you. It’s important to realize that Google is also the world’s greatest artificial intelligence (AI) company, having purchased Deep Mind for $400 million several years ago. Deep Mind now employs over 700 AI researchers, the largest collection anywhere in the world.
They are responsible for defeating the human Go champion in 2017, which far exceeds the complexity of defeating a human chess champion. With this level of AI, it is not hard for them to sort through all your data with their deep learning algorithms to detect patterns that can be exploited for profit.
Here is a deep dive into the data harvesting going on between Facebook and Google, for anyone concerned about their privacy, the results are disconcerting to say the least. Here’s a summary list of the kind of information these two corporations collect, track and store on each and every single user:
Extremely detailed location tracking: If you have a Google-enabled device on your device that has location tracking turned on, it will store the exact details of where you are at any given moment, and this data accumulates from the first day you started using Google on the device.
Complete search histories on all devices: Google keeps tabs on everything you’ve ever searched for, on any device, including search histories you’ve deleted from an individual device.
Personalized advertisement profile: Based on your data profile location, gender, age, work and private interests, relationship status, income, health concerns, future plans and so on, Google creates personalized advertisements that might interest you. Have you ever done a search for a particular product or service and suddenly found yourself flooded with ads for that precise thing? That’s your data profile at work.
App usage: Do you use apps and extensions? If so, Google knows which ones you’re using, how often, when, where and with whom you’re interacting when you do.
YouTube history: Much can be gleaned from the types of videos you’re interested in, and Google keeps tabs on every single one you’ve ever searched for, watched and commented on.
Facebook interactions: Like Google, Facebook records, tracks and stores every single thing you do on Facebook: Every post, comment, like, private message and file ever sent and received, contacts, friends lists, login locations, stickers and more. Even the recurrent use of certain words is noted and can become valuable currency for advertisers.
Clandestine microphone access: Disturbingly, both Facebook and Google have the ability to access your microphone without your knowledge. If you suddenly find yourself on the receiving end of ads for products or services you just spoke about out loud, chances are one or more apps are linked into your microphone and are eavesdropping.
Clandestine webcam access: Your built-in webcam on your phone, tablet, laptop or computer can also be accessed by various apps. For a long time, app permissions were something the regular PC user had no idea about. When installing new software on a computer, we were never asked if application X could access our web camera, our list of contacts, etc. App permissions may seem like a nuisance, but the better you know how they work, the safer you can keep your data.
Event tracking: By tracking your Google calendar entries, combined with your location data, Google knows what events you’ve attended, when and for how long.
Your fitness routine: If you use Google Fit, all the details about your fitness routine and workouts, down to how many steps you’ve taken on any given day, are recorded and stored.
A lifetime of photographic evidence: Twenty years ago, photos were a private matter, reminisced over in photo albums and displayed around the home. Today, people’s lives are on public display online, and Google captures it all. When combined with facial recognition software and other technological identification applications, including metadata detailing the time and place of each snap, your photos are a treasure trove of private information.
A lifetime of emails: Google also has every single email you’ve ever sent, received and deleted.
Deleted files and information: You probably delete files and information every now and then for the sake of safety, right? You might decide to delete that list of passwords from your phone, for example, in case you lose it or it gets hacked. Well, Google still has all of that information.
If you’ve done it or researched it, Google and Facebook have a record of it: Like Facebook, Google allows you to download a copy of the data they have stored on you. Essentially, your Google account contains a detailed diary of everything you’ve ever done or planned to do, and where you were when you did it.
Google and Facebook services are useful and practical, making life easier in many ways, and more fun in others. That’s the bait, and many have swallowed it hook, line and sinker, not giving any thought to the ultimate price paid for such conveniences, or simply underestimating the threat that all of this personal data collection poses. If you fall into this category, I ask you to give this issue some serious thought, because monopolies threaten our every way of life, and in more ways than one.
Google’s data harvesting is particularly concerning in light of its military connections, and the fact the company has repeatedly been caught infringing on privacy rights and misrepresenting the type and amount of data it collects and shares on its users. Make no mistake about it. Capturing user data is Google’s primary business. The fact that it provides practical services while doing so only serves as a convenient distraction from the fact that privacy violations are taking place.
More than 3,100 Google employees signed a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai, urging him not to go ahead with plans to provide AI technology to the Pentagon’s drone program, known as Project Maven. Google’s AI contribution could improve the system’s ability to analyze video and potentially be used to identify targets and civilians. The letter also urges Pichai to establish a corporate policy that disallows it from participating in warfare technology.
Some experts believe the plan to combine Alphabet-Google’s data harvesting with a military 5G network is a very bad idea. Alphabet, the rebranded parent company of Google and its many divisions, has turned into an octopus-like super entity with tentacles reaching into government, food production, health care, education, military applications and the creation of AIs that may run more or less independently. A key component of many of these enterprises is incredibly detailed personal usage data.
Ultimately, your user data and personal details can be used for everything from creating personalized advertising to AI-equipped robotic warfare applications. Google’s involvement in education and health care also has far-reaching ramifications, and in these settings your personal data could potentially be used to influence not only your personal lifestyle decisions but also to shape society at large.
Today, being a conscious consumer includes making wise, informed decisions about technology, and two of the greatest personal data leaks in your life are Google and Facebook. Here’s a summary of action steps you can take right now, starting today, to protect your privacy.
1. Sign the “Don’t be evil” petition aimed at Google, created by Citizens Against Monopoly
2. Avoid any and all Google products:
a. Stop using Google search engines. So far, one of the best alternatives I’ve found is duckduckgo.com
b. Uninstall Google Chrome and use the Opera browser instead, available for all computers and mobile devices. From a security perspective, Opera is far superior to Chrome and offers a free VPN service (virtual private network) to further preserve your privacy.
c. If you have a Gmail account, close it and open an account with a non-Google affiliated email service such as protonmail.com and encrypted email service based in Switzerland.
d. Stop using Google docs.
e. If you’re a high school student, do not convert the Google accounts you created as a student into personal accounts.
3. Minimize your use of Facebook, and be mindful of what you post, click, and comment on while there.