In this blog I want to look at Internet Trackers and monitoring your online activity. To do this, I want to look at two main companies – Facebook and Google.
Some of you might remember the famous quote from Facebook's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, when he was testifying to US Congress about the Cambridge Analytica Scandal. He was asked how Facebook makes money providing all these services for free: "Well, Senator, we run ads" https://bit.ly/2M4IgBY. Now it is the Smirk at the end that makes me angry because its those "adverts" that have made him one of the most influential, powerful, and richest people in the world.
So, let's start from the beginning – Facebook is an advertising company first and foremost. If I am a company and I want to sell my niche product of novelty socks in the UK, I can go to Facebook, choose the product I am trying to sell, and their algorithm and data store will target the people most likely to buy my product.
So how do they know this?
We need to start by analysing what products they have and what data they have on us:
Facebook – Email address, Password, Location history (phone GPS or IP address), Pictures, Holidays, Friends, Family, Age, Gender, Things I have posted, News articles I read, The Devices I access the platform on, Tracking code, Relationship status, Likes, Groups, Marketplace views – and many more!
Facebook Messenger - Email address, Password, Location history (phone GPS or IP address), Pictures, Friends, Family, Age, Gender, Private messages, Things I have shared and interest me or the person I'm sending it too, The Devices I access the platform on, Tracking code, influencers – and many more!
Instagram – Email address, Password, Location history (phone GPS or IP address), Pictures, Holidays, Friends, Family, Age, Gender, People I follow, The Devices I access the platform on, Tracking code, Relationship status – and many more!
WhatsApp - Email address, Phone number, Password, Location history (phone GPS or IP address), Pictures, Friends, Family, Age, Gender, Private messages, Things I have share and interest me or the person I'm sending it too, The Devices I access the platform on, Tracking code, influencers – and many more!
Just looking at the above four, I could know that you went on holiday last week to Portugal. I know what you looked like on holiday from the pics and the AI for identifying your face. I know you went with your partner because they are tagged in your pictures, and the AI identified them. (All Facebook). I also know that you messaged home and managed to persuade your sister that she should visit out here and get some sun. I also know you found some delicious ice cream and sent your parents a link to their website (Facebook Messenger). I know that you have an outreach of many followers and can influence them to come out here, especially a select group of friends who always like everything you put, along with some new followers and friends who live in Portugal who are obviously people you met (Instagram). I also know that you have been able to keep up with local sport back home, messaging a group chat about how a few teams did and the odds-on betting. I also know you had a group chat with a friend which lasted 1 hour while they are going through a sticky break-up according to their Facebook profile (WhatsApp).
Pretending to be Facebook, I can sell you some more Vans trainers as our AI identified them in a lot of your pictures. I can sell you partner gifts like picture frames now you're back in the UK or a couple of experiences to plan your next adventure. I also know there is a limited period where you will both have "holiday blues", knowing your partner has more control in the relationship, I can sell them the next holiday. I can sell your sister a holiday for some sun, impulsive with buying habits and her clicking on a lot of previous ads. I can sell your parents that ice cream link you sent them. I can sell holidays to Portugal to followers and people around you who could be persuaded by your actions to travel out. Equally, I can sell holidays to the UK back to those new Portuguese followers on Instagram so they can visit you back. I also know you are a betting man, so I can offer you good odds on the sports at the weekend involving specific teams. I can also target your friend with the long call with ads for a holiday to try and take advantage of their poor mental state. Please, Please, Please, watch this video and this video.
Hopefully, you understand now. Let's say I work for NEXT, and you came on our website the other day looking for a new suit jacket. You had one in the basket is your size, but didn't click BUY. Because you have Facebook open in another browser tab, it is tracking you! It notices you did not click BUY. Facebook will then sell you advertising on their site for NEXT suit Jackets. As the NEXT Marketing Director, I then get a good click through on my Facebook advertising, and I look good in front of my bosses – the Facebook adverts are working! However, Facebook now know your personal size and that you are in the market for a suit jacket, so they can use this data to push Topshop adverts and sell you a suit jacket there, or adverts for a new pair of shoes from Debenhams to go with the suit. This is all an automated algorithm which controls our lives and nudges us constantly into buying things.
When companies say they share your data with third parties – Facebook, Google, Amazon, and data brokers are usually willing to pay and buy-in key data.
Google and Google AdSense is exactly the same as Facebook only equally far-reaching. Google have a huge range of products:
Google Search, Google Chrome, Android, Gmail, Google Home, Youtube, Google Pay, and many more.
And this advertising platform has even further reach because any company in the world can build a website and add in the "Google AdSense" code. This allows the website to make money on wasted space, and Google can push their adverts (targeted or not) for a huge number of websites effectively chasing you around the internet and on phone apps, continuously push that idea – "you want to buy this".
Thanks to Google Home, they know you are in the study with X lightbulbs set to Y per cent. They know the Nest thermostat is set to a warm temperature. Thanks to Google Chrome, they know that you are clothes shopping, and although you are on some smaller clothes retailers, earlier in the day, you were on the ASOS app on your android phone. They also know someone you watch on YouTube has recently reviewed some new clothes, and thanks to AI they can find similar fashions and styles on the ASOS catalogue to advertise to you on every site you go on. Google can even track that the payment went through when Google Pay is used, or PayPal on the Android mobile produces a notification or sends you an email to Gmail.
We need to consider this in everything that we do online. Privacy is key and these big companies one - collate everything (So the diagrams you made last week are definitely in Facebook and Googles algorithms), but two - they use this data TO MAKE MONEY. You are a quantifiable asset, and your data has a price. Nothing is free!
Anyone else sick of the "Allow Third Party Cookies on our site" messages? It's these "trusted" third-party cookies that track you across multiple sites and report back, reject them if you can!