Smartphones have become an everyday necessity for the majority of the population— a life without a smartphone is certainly an inconvenient one. Our lives are stored within these devices, from our calendar appointments to conversations with our closest friends and family.
With all our data stored in such a way, the issue of privacy is always paramount. It’s no surprise then that the media has been focused on GDPR, which was introduced in 2018 to protect EU citizens’ data from corporations. Previous data protection regulations from 1995 were outdated in a digital age, failing to scrutinise how data should be collected, stored, and transferred. An intense focus around data protection combined with revelations of data breaches from companies like Facebook and Equifax has made many of us aware that our information being disseminated with companies wanting to target us with better with personalised advertisements. But do we know which information is being used?
According to research, over 70 per cent of apps are recording and reporting personal data to third parties like Facebook and Google Analytics. Here, RedMosquito take a look how brands and technology are tracking what we do, and just how concerned we should really be.
One of the more controversial issues is our location being tracked — even when we deny permission on our phone settings. Google Maps requires us to agree to sharing our location for the purpose of the app, however this tracking doesn’t stop when we finish our journey. A timeline of our daily routines and activities are mapped out, even recording minute by minute how long we spend at these locations. Did you spend the day at home, or have a busy day visiting family and friends? Google will likely know everywhere you’ve been, but that isn’t the most concerning and intrusive part; Google still records location information even when we turn it off in our settings.
Google takes this data to help advertise to people based on location, using local campaigns to boost in-store visits, measuring how effective a campaign is in driving traffic by taking data from user’s location histories.
A matter of privacy risks, many are concerned that this data is stored in cloud databases which could be hacked. So, is this sensitive information secure or should we be worried that this could be accessed in a cyber-attack?
To deny Google from saving your location data by turning off an option called ‘Web and App Activity’ in your Google apps, an arguably misleading title for those concerned about their own privacy who turned off location services.
What You Said
Google Home and Google Assistant are artificial intelligence virtual assistants that probably knows you better than your friends and family do. Voice commands that you give to these speakers are stored to help build a consumer behavioural profile around yourself. All commands are saved no matter how mundane you might think they are — if you commanded your Google Assistant to turn off a light, this will be saved alongside an audio recording.
Google’s speakers are supposed to be triggered by saying “Hey Google”, however at the beginning of 2019 people were unaware that these virtual assistants were eavesdropping on conversations people had in the privacy of their own homes. It was revealed in July 2019 that third-party contractors were listening to these recordings to help develop the artificial intelligence system’s understanding of speech and dialect. Regardless of the intent, whether it’s for advertising purposes or to simply improve technology, it’s safe to say nobody wants someone listening in on what you’re saying.
Track Your Behaviour on the Web
What we’ve seen so far is Google tracking us through their systems and applications, but what about what we do on other websites? A lot of Facebook’s revenue depends on finding out as much as it can about our likes and dislikes and gets this information from other websites we visit. Facebook Pixel is the feature that tracks our online activity to create accurate profiles of us, making it easier for advertisers to target us with our interests. To limit this access, it’s recommended to install extensions on your internet browsers such as Ghostery to disable trackers on your activity.
In-store purchases can also be tracked by Facebook, although not as easily as online shopping. By collaborating with payment providers such as Square, call centres, and loyalty programs, Facebook can find out whether advertisements are working on those targeted. If you have loyalty cards, use sign-up details that are unlinked to your Facebook account — request paper receipts over digital receipts to stop companies making the link between your in-store purchases and Facebook account.
If you’re concerned about how your personal information is being used, it’s worth taking a look at measures you can take to prevent your details being exploited by third parties – your privacy is important!