It’s not a secret that we’re being tracked all the time. And if it was a secret for you until now, we have some unfortunate news for you — your every step online is being watched over. Whatever you do, whatever you search for, and even whenever you go — all these actions are meticulously registered by someone.
All this does sound intimidating. But actually, the information about the places you visit, things you like and buy is just in some cases might be used by someone who could harm you. Mostly, it’s used by marketing professionals who will then offer you products you might want to buy based on your interests.
This phenomenon has an interesting term — “surveillance capitalism.” It was first used by Shoshana Zuboff, a Harvard Business School professor. She defined this term as the commoditization of user data that is based on tracking algorithms and the monitoring of user behavior. Surveillance capitalism is what powers all those handy services offered by search engines and social media platforms that we’re using for free. Well, everything has a price, doesn’t it? If we don’t pay for a service with money, we will pay for it with our privacy.
That’s one of the reasons why security specialists encourage people to use a VPN app — it will hide your IP address and therefore location thus adding at least some degree of protection to your online activity.
How big data works against us
Generally, big data is seen as a positive thing because it brings us numerous possibilities to individuals, science, and businesses. However, the benefits the latter get became an issue for us as big data allows brands to manipulate us better into buying things. Surveillance capitalism professor Zuboff is talking about is no doubt just another step in the evolutionary ladder of capitalism.
Business is now armed with unprecedented tools such as tracking algorithms and data-processing instruments. There is a whole ecosystem of various tools for surveillance-based businesses. Therefore, companies can easily track, study, and predict demand and customer behavior.
As a result, quite everything that has a connection to the internet can gather and bring user data to a business. Even that nice Bluetooth toothbrush that allows you to control how well you brush your teeth gathers data about the frequency of your teeth-brushing activity and fetches it to insurers allowing them to calculate the costs of their services better. The free WiFi of the city’s transportation system in London gathers data from those users connected to it and rather possibly sells it.
But that’s nothing before the profit companies like Google and Facebook make on tracking the user activity. The revenue goes up over a hundred billion USD in 2019, and who knows what will the figures look like in 2020 as we all were spending way more time online.
Sure, we can justify such an approach by saying that we are getting a lot of services for free now, and the costs of many other products are reduced. But not everyone feels comfortable knowing they’re being constantly watched over.
So, should we care about this at all?
Some of you might remain unconcerned about all this surveillance. Others may consider it to be a fair price for all the benefits we get. After all, most of us have nothing to hide.
But there is a detail that casts a shadow over such indifference. Knowing us better than we could imagine, brands can manipulate us into buying things we never knew we wanted. They predict our behavior and desires so accurately that we start feeling like all those ads are reading our minds.
In a certain way, it’s a useful thing. You don’t really have to search for anything you need — ads will bring all the sellers to your feet. But how does it all impact our critical thinking? Are those decisions to buy advertised products as independent as we want them to be? If you see a certain thing enough times, you’ll find yourself wanting to get it.
So it’s up to you whether you want to care about it or not. The sad fact is that you can’t really escape surveillance completely. You can just avoid it partially.
How to gain more privacy?
You can perform certain actions to stay more anonymous online thus avoiding surveillance from businesses.
Use a VPN app
iNinja offers a VPN extension for Chrome, but also this tool comes as a standalone app for your computer and mobile gadgets. But remember, if you’re using Google, a VPN won’t help you escape surveillance even by hiding your IP address because this search engine tracks the activity of all its users.
This search engine allows you to look for things without being tracked. It’s a safer alternative to Google, but it might be not as convenient.
Use privacy-oriented browsers
Every website makes you accept cookies and also reads your fingerprints — unique data sets about your system. Privacy-oriented browsers will let you avoid sharing these details. Also, you can stop accepting cookies.
Disable location when you don’t need it
Get used to turn on GPS on your devices only when you need it — to call Uber, for example. However, you could enter your address instead, too. If you wander around with GPS on, Google tracks your locations. Then you suddenly start getting offers from a shop you’ve never been to just because you’ve passed by it once.
Mind access you give to apps
Apps always ask us for access to at least something — location, contacts, calls, calendar, and so on. Don’t allow them to access certain features if that’s not necessary for the app to function.
Although even by doing all these things, you won’t escape surveillance completely. So that’s what we need to find peace with.