Anything you say or do will be used against you
We dive deeper into one of the lesser-known but highly-impactful risks associated with data collection: how it ends up being used against you.
Remember the early days of the internet, when people frowned at the idea of entering their credit card information online? Maybe it was friends of yours, your parents, siblings – or you, even. Nowadays, not so much; we have come such a long way that people will now input their credit card information without as much as a second thought. Not only that, but with social media and the internet being the world’s biggest public forum, nearly every aspect of many people’s lives and a lot of their thoughts is recorded online. And every detail of that online record is tracked and monetized to its finest detail.
You don’t think much of it? Just spend five minutes of your time to read what follows; it might genuinely change your mind about your data being collected.
What most of us know so far regarding data collection
The world’s biggest tech entities and millions of other companies track a myriad of information about their users’ lives and habits: browsing history, financial information, browser information, IP address, cursor movement, keystrokes, attention span (how long you look at a given piece of information), political preferences, hobbies, and much, much more. Some applications go as far as listening to your conversations, predicting what you will buy in the future, your biometrics information, or even breaking the news to your dad that you’re pregnant. Awkward!
To make matters even worse, companies that collect this information about you often share it with countless other companies, and almost always without your consent, knowledge, or understanding. And yes, they do it even though the widely-acclaimed but poorly-effective GDPR regulations have come into effect.
The worrying trend of reckless data mining, and the increase of data we produce for every tiny action undertaken on the web, has created a terrible pandemic of its own: data harvesting, data leaks, data theft and identity theft all go hand-in-hand in this century. Indeed, we can now go as far as saying that only three things are guaranteed in life: taxation, death, and your personal information leaking to undesirable parties.
“But I have nothing to hide, so why should I care?” one might say. Well, aside from having your identity stolen, or your credit card filled up with fraudulent purchases, there’s one ugly fact that is barely understood by anyone: the risk of having your own thoughts being used against you. We know, this sounds...weird and vague, but the 2016 American presidential election is, as we’ll see, a fantastic example of this often-overlooked phenomenon associated with data mining.
The lessons we can learn from the Cambridge Analytica "scandal"
November 2016 saw the election of a highly polarizing figure to the American presidency: Donald J. Trump. Whether one’s opinion on the man is negative or positive, there is a good chance that it is not neutral.
In 2016, Trump’s presidential campaign contracted Cambridge Analytica, a big data firm that specialized in analyzing data and selling the conclusions of their research to interested parties, to help craft them narratives and political strategies. Cambridge Analytica, on their “about” web page, touted an impressive 5000 data points per person, targeting 220 million Americans, and used that data to create personality models for those people. That information, if you could afford it, was highly valuable to the Trump campaign’s ambitions – and with the help of Cambridge Analytica, they gathered as much information on American voters as they possibly could. What do they like, or fear? What are the biggest issues? What triggers in them the most emotion? Who do they talk to? Where do they hang out? What is the best way to catch their attention? The list was extensive.
As it turned out, even when people disliked Trump, they talked about him a lot, and often on social media. This created intense debates of ideas, creating the conditions for all the data Cambridge Analytica needed to advise the Trump campaign on how to best move forward. Simply talking about him on social media is very likely to have contributed to his unexpected 306-to-232 victory.
It’s clear in hindsight that our discourse allowed Cambridge to craft very apt political narratives in order to appeal to a large part of the population – often alienated from common politicians - and provided all the information required to draft an election strategy. Ironically, the polemic around Trump – how controversial he was as a political figure – directly contributed to his victory. In the end, for slightly more than half of American voters, their data was in effect used against them.
An institutional problem
But here’s the real cherry on top: every single political party, on either side of the aisle, every corporation, think tank, research firm, every special interest group - they are all guilty of the exact same thing the Trump campaign did with Cambridge Analytica. They all do it, almost without exception – the stakes are too high not to, and the bottom lines too attractive.
And so, whenever you log online and discuss with others, do research, scroll up or down and spend X amount of seconds on this or that social media post, you generate data that not only could leak and expose you to malicious actors, but also be used to profile and track you, and often against your own interests.
If you’re an online vendor, for example, then it’s your sales volume and page traffic that will sometimes be collected by competitors, other times by the eCommerce platform you’re using. And this valuable data can then be used to put you out of business. It happened, it still happens, and it’ll keep happening. In fact, the problem of your data being used against you go far beyond politics and can reach every single aspect of your life. It probably already did, and you may not even be aware of; how could you in the first place?
So how do we stop this? How do we protect our digital sovereignty and opt out of this toxic dynamic?
Unfortunately, it seems impossible if you use traditional web technologies, or what is increasingly being referred to as “web2”. With cookies, data sharing policies, and monetization, there’s little to no way to escape from this. It’s for “advertisement purposes”, they say. But we all certainly know better!
For example, what if you want to buy something online? Then you have to go on a website that uses various plugins and third-party services. The most obvious being a payment processor and/or bank, a domain host, a website/server host, a web platform (i.e., Wordpress and its plugins), an e-commerce solution (Amazon, eBay, Shopify), etc. All of these third-parties collect their own set of data, according to what they want to know about you (and how much they plan to monetize your information for), and then, they share it to even more partners that, in turn, monetize your data and probably share it with their own partners as well. A simple purchase on Amazon spreads your personal information in all directions with absolutely no control or consent on your end (and as we’ve seen, agreeing to pop up privacy and cookie policies does a poor job at slowing this data pandemic down).
Given time, every problem finds its solution
This state of affairs was a big motivation behind our development of the Particl Marketplace - a decentralized, peer-to-peer marketplace with no middleman and no data collection whatsoever. All transactions are made person-to-person, with no unauthorized party having access to any single piece of information. Our privacy coin is also a major aspect of why it works; all trades are inherently private and anonymous, protecting both buyers and sellers from having their data harvested by scrapers and unscrupulous intermediaries. Calling it the world’s safest and most private way to buy and sell anything online is no exaggeration because if no data is generated in the first place, then it can’t be collected. And that’s precisely how we roll!
With the state of the internet today, it is high time we get back to being skeptical and careful about who we share our data with; it’s never been as much of a problem as it is now and one would be ill-advised to think this will get better on its own, without us taking the appropriate steps required to protect ourselves. Why would “they” want to stop the gravy train?
Ultimately, the choice is yours. Do you want to take the risk of sharing your personal information with thousands of entities, with a myriad of hidden intentions? Would you take the chance of that information potentially being used against you, however that might happen? Or, would you rather be safe than sorry?
If you’re thinking of taking precautions, then the Particl Marketplace is just the thing for you! Come join our global community of people who’ve decided to protect their private life and join the world’s only real free-market economy. You can buy and sell anything here, and you won’t leave any sort of digital footprint behind. The internet...the way it should always have been!