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Your Data's Voyage
Your data is everywhere. Time to take control.
Advertisements are everywhere.
They are the most prominent product from the harvesting and selling of your PII (Personally Identifiable Information). Have you ever been outside a Chipotle restaurant and immediately received an email advert for burritos? Have you ever donated to a political campaign and then received emails from candidates you’ve never supported? Or searched something like “what to expect from a pregnancy,” scrolled through your Instagram reels and found it inundated with new mom related product advertisements?
Even if you haven’t noticed, these types of things are happening to you multiple times every day. For the Chipotle example, your geolocation and phone ID are tracked and auctioned off in real-time. Your email address you entered when you donated to that campaign is sold off to other political campaigns affiliated with the same party. Your Google pregnancy search is tracked and those seeking to advertise to the “Millennial new mom in the suburbs” user persona scoop up tons of relevant contact information and phone IDs to serve advertisements to a population widely considered to be a cash cow.
Data brokers are at the center of all of these transactions. So what exactly is happening?
To continue with the above examples, let’s say that you are a 28-year-old woman who is a fan of Mexican food, aligns with the American Democratic Party, and you’re expecting your first child in a few short months. In the past week, you’ve stopped into Chipotle twice, donated to a candidate for Congress, and spent hours researching what pregnancy is going to be like.
At Chipotle, your geolocation data is harvested as well as your credit card transaction. Your email client and the donation form you filled out collects your contact information. Google tracks your search and browsing history. Each of these entities then auctions off this relevant and valuable information to third-party data brokers, of which you have to pre-existing relationship with. The compiled data creates an intricate profile of who you are as a person, from your tendencies to your moods to your desires to your fears.
Now, let’s say while sitting down at Chipotle, you open up Instagram and take a selfie of you and your delicious burrito. When you first downloaded the Instagram app, you allowed for it to access all of the photos in your library. Each photo in your library has attached to it relevant metadata, such as where you were when you took the photo. So now, not only is your location inside the Chipotle known and later sold, the app also knows you were at the Grand Canyon last month, Starbucks every morning at 8, a knitting class on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and much, much more. Your digital advertising profile grows and becomes more refined and specific. It tells the story of who you are. And it pays to know your customer.
Companies like Apple, for example, are acutely aware of the growing sense of privacy breaches tethered to the harvesting and re-selling of user data. With recent privacy-centric updates to their products and policies, users have more control over their data, but a major piece of the puzzle is still missing. When data is shared, users still receive nothing in return, and when it’s not shared, products and services become worse.