The Economics of Information
When you use the internet, information is being collected about you, often without your knowledge. In the previous section, you learned about how and why governments may want to access your online information for public safety and national security purposes. Businesses and other individuals also have an interest in your online activities, primarily for their own profit. This section of the guide will talk about how information about your online behaviours, interests, and habits is collected by businesses, and the privacy risks involved. While it’s unlikely that any of us will stop using the internet any time soon, knowing how our information is being collected and used by businesses allows us understand the tradeoffs of using their online services. We can then make informed decisions about the websites and applications (apps) that we use and be more careful about the information that we share online. Knowing which companies put our privacy at risk also allows us to hold them more accountable for protecting our private information.
— How are you tracked? —
Behavioural tracking is a technique used by website publishers and advertisers to collect information about your online activities, including: the pages you have visited; the amount of time you spend on each page; your search history;
and your online purchases. Using this information, marketers are able to increase the effectiveness of their advertising by targeting specific people who are likely to buy from them.
A data broker is a business that engages in behavioural tracking to collect and analyze a web-user’s personal online information, and sells that information to make a profit. Data brokers may share information such as your name, address, and age with businesses who may use that information for marketing purposes. Some data brokers advertise that they can provide hundreds of data points about individuals, and have collections of data that include information about millions of people. Most of the time your information is being sold without your permission.
Here are a few examples how data brokers, companies or hackers can collect your online information
Cookies are little bits of information that a website can store on your computer to make your experience on that website more convenient the next time you visit. For example, cookies can remember your preferences, help with automatic logins, and save your shopping cart items. While cookies are generally harmless text files on your computer from a single website, tracking cookies collect and use your information across multiple websites and sends that information to a remote database for analysis. Tracking cookies can be a privacy concern because they can create a record of your activities from all the sites you have visited, and send that information along with personal identifiers such as your name and address to a third party without your knowledge and consent. Many online services provide an opt-out option for targeted advertising, so you may want to look for that option.
Video surveillance is a monitoring system using cameras to record activity in a physical location. You may see video surveillance cameras used in stores to prevent theft, but it can also be used to help companies make business decisions. For example, by recording the behaviour of shoppers, a store can determine what areas shoppers visit most, and relocate merchandise accordingly. Stores are supposed to notify you about cameras, including why they use them. Do you remember seeing any signs notifying you of video surveillance in your favourite place to shop?
Using facial recognition software, images of individuals can be analysed and compared with other images in order to identify that individual. Companies like Facebook use facial recognition software to help you tag photos. The problem is, with vast quantities of images uploaded and tagged on Facebook on a daily basis, it is becoming easier for companies, government authorities, and individuals to use social media and facial recognition software to identify individuals with high degree of accuracy.
— Is there a cost for ‘free’ services? —
When we talk about data being stored “in the cloud” what we really mean is that it is stored remotely, on a server that may be located anywhere in the world. Services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud and others are examples of cloud storage. Often these services allow you to store quite a lot of information for free. However, there are a few different kinds of privacy risks to think about when you are using cloud storage.
First: where is your data stored?
If it is in Canada, it is covered by Canadian privacy law. If it is not in Canada, it is covered by the law of the country where it is stored, which means the privacy protections you have will be different.
Second: what are the rules about who gets to access your data?
Can the company see it? What kind of policies do they have about when, or if, they can look at it?
Finally, what kind of security does the cloud site maintain?
In other words, what are they doing to make sure your data is safe? It’s also becoming common for schools to partner with service providers to give free storage to students, to create spaces to store and share assignments. What kind of questions might you want to ask about this “free” storage? Are there any privacy risks when your school requires you to use cloud storage connected to a school account? What rights does the school board or your school administrators have to look at your information?
Marketers love teens!
Data collected from the online activities of young people are particularly valuable not just because young people are consumers, but also because they influence the purchasing decisions of people around them. Young people may influence their family’s decision to shop at a certain store, or choose a specific place for vacation. They also influence their peers through their social networks at school or online. Information spreads quickly among youth, and a new product or brand deemed as “cool” soon becomes the “it” item that everyone wants.
Adults are the present, but young people are the future. Young people will be the consumers who are beginning to shape the economy for many years to come. The information of adults is valuable for short-term business goals and trends but by learning and understanding the identities and fiscal habits of youth, an organization is able to better adapt its practices for the future by creating ideas that will prove to be sustainable as opposed to temporary.
In the past, the media has always found children and teens to be easy targets as they blindly observe everything that is advertised to them. However, this generation of young people are more critical and aware of the antics used by the media and advertisers than ever before. Media literacy has been improving in schools, which has led to more alert youth who passively consume lessthan previous generations.
Don’t ignore those terms and conditions!
One of the ways to be informed of the privacy risks of your favourite apps, is to read the terms and conditions or privacy policies associated with an app before installing it. By understanding what privacy risks are involved, you can decide whether or not the services provided by the app are worth it. Even if you don’t have time to read about every app (and really, no one does) you probably have the 30 seconds it takes to skim the list of permissions that come up on your phone screen when you do a download, and make a choice about whether they seem reasonable or weird. Does that bubble-popping game really need to access your contacts? Maybe it would be better to find a different game.
Do a privacy audit of your favourite app!
Instagram can collect your email and share it with other companies connected with Instagram. Say hello to junk mail, my friend.
Instagram has a function that allows you to “find friends” by giving Instagram access to contact lists or your other social media accounts, like Facebook.
Instagram provides your information, including web pages you have visited outside of Instagram, to third-party analytics companies. This helps Instagram do things like measure user traffic and trends and send you targeted advertising.
When sharing your information with Instagram’s affiliates or third-party service providers, Instagram can decide whether or not to also include data that can identify you.
If Instagram goes broke, your data is sold along with the company.
Instagram does not knowingly collect info about kids under 13.
Instagram may transfer your information, including personal information, to other countries where you don’t reside. That means that your data may be se nt to be stored or processed in a country that has different laws about protecting your data than the country in which you live.
Now for the big downer: even if you cancel your account, Instagram gets to keep your data!
The company says in its terms of service that users give it a “worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to host, store, use, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish, and distribute that content for as long as you use the service.”*
When you use Live or Local Stories, you are agreeing to let Snap Group and its affiliates and business partners “the unrestricted, worldwide right and license to use your name, likeness and voice” in “any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).”*
This means that Snapchat is essentially getting permission to hold onto your information and publicly use it, even in ways you can’t imagine because they haven’t been invented yet. Again, you can control who can see your stories using your privacy settings, but the default is to share widely.
Snapchat is allowed to share your information with other snapchatters, with its business partners and affiliates, and the public. It can also share with third parties, such as people who sell services to them or who provide functionality.
There is a lot of information collected about you that Snapchat can potentially share, including your device information, which consists of the browser you use, the language it is set in, your wireless network, and your mobile network that includes your phonebook. Snapchat also gathers your location information. Of course filters about the city you are in would be impossible to use without gathering your physical location, but it is important to know that Snapchat does, in fact, gather your location services assessing for trends.
Snapchat records the amount of times you use a certain filter and shares user data with the third parties that make the filters. Maybe you are very fond of the “flower crown” or perhaps the dog filter. Either way, Snapchat records the number of times a user uses specific filter.
Of course Snapchat must have access to certain information so it knows which filters are most in demand, but remember the list of information it collects about you is quite extensive, and that gets shared too.
Snapchat may process your data in the UK and US, where different privacy laws apply than in Canada.