The fact that we’re more closely watched, listened to, tracked, and read than we’ve ever been in history has snuck up on us and we’ve embraced it gratefully. But at what cost? The methods and purposes of data collection expand without pause, with no limit in sight. And whilst you might argue that Facebook and Google ‘pay us’ for our data with their services, behind these overtly public and bullishly data-gathering platforms is a whole army of behind the scenes data appropriation agencies – hoovering up and tying together unprecedentedly accurate profiles of everyone online.
That’s you and me, and the details that we don’t know are known about us are mind boggling. This exploding realm of data gathering and analysis is so far most interested in helping companies market to us with uncanny accuracy. If you ever think ‘what a coincidence that this news site is marketing shoes to me after I ordered a pair online last week… ‘ That is NO co-incidence. Behind the scenes, Mountains of YOUR data are being analysed by algorithms as never before, and conclusions are being drawn about YOU, increasingly in ways that we are less and less able to understand, let alone control.
The trouble with all this data sharing is: the degree of privacy each of us now forfeits every time we take our phones out of our pockets is generally underestimated and misunderstood. All this free stuff and information is great until that day when we find we can’t get a mortgage for no apparent reason, that a prospective employer mentions an embarrassing holiday photo from 10 years ago, or you’re held in airport security for an interview because of a funny comment you made on a blog post last week.
Its up to each of us to become aware of and take back control of our personal data, or suffer the perils of every moment of our imperfect lives potentially coming back to haunt us. The best methods for minimising our digital footprints are: use private browsing mode in your browser of choice, use data-tunnelling VPN software when using public Wifi networks, and consider the benefits of sometimes paying for a product, because when you’re not paying, your data and you ARE the product.