In the previous post, we saw in brief, how government sponsored intelligence agencies spy influential people, organizations and the general public for some reason that is not entirely apparent now. While, these events happen 24*7, in this post we will see how we give out our private information without our knowledge (most times).
Most of the sites and applications that we visit and use are designed in a way to make stealing our data legal. In order to open an account in these Internet services, we have to accept the “Terms and Conditions” provided by the organization. In social networking sites, it is usually in the form of a “Quick Join Clickwrap Agreement”. On clicking “I agree to the Terms and Conditions”, you confirm that you accept their terms. When you click that option, you give the company the right to keep, analyze and sell your data. That’s basically the common-English translation of all the fineprint mumbo-jumbo written in legalese . I’m sure that if you read through the content , you’ll remember Orwell’s dystopian world of “1984” taking the evolutionary leap. Don’t feel too bad on not reading the agreement. It is not just you. These consent materials are intentionally vague.
Two communications professors, Jonathan Obar of York University in Toronto and Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch of the University of Connecticut conducted a qualitative survey analysis assessing user interactions with the consent materials of a fictitious social networking service, NameDrop.
The abstract of the research paper is as follows:
“Findings reveal that the quick-join clickwrap option, common to social networking services, hinders consent processes by making privacy and terms of service policies difficult to find, and by discouraging engagement with privacy and reputation protections by suggesting that consent materials are unimportant.”
Now we are sure that these companies get to keep our data but what does this data include? What is it that we have, that these companies are trying to get their hands on ?
We’ll see a common example. Most of us fail to comprehend the amount of data that a digital photograph comprises of. We take photos and share them, not only to our friends but also to the general public. It is essential to understand the content of the photograph, the metadata. Metadata includes and is not limited to data about creator, creation date and location, contact information for licencors of the image, and other technical details, information about the visual content, copyright information and underlying rights in the visual content including model and property rights, and rights usage terms.
A photograph taken with a GPS-enabled camera can reveal data about the location in which the photo was taken alongside an ID unique to the camera used. We might need a separate software to remove this data, often accumulated without the user’s knowledge. An instance of this data being used by the intelligence agencies happened in December 2012, when a “John McAfee Exclusive” on Vice.com revealed his location in iPhone EXIF Data.
According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the NSA is targeting Exif information under the XKeyscore program .
On uploading a photo on a site which reveals the exif data: http://prashere.gitlab.io/exifdata/ , the following exif data is revealed.
Starting from my location details to the details about my smartphone, light intensity, camera lens details have all been included in this list. The exif data has it all. This is just the exif data of a single photograph taken on your smartphone. Imagine the amount of information that could be gathered if all the photos taken by your smartphone were assimilated in one place. For all we know, your walking habits have been stored and analysed by your phone manufacturer, for “monitoring your walking habits and health”.
These days, when you upload a photo online in a social network, the site strips off the exif data before the viewer sees the picture. If someone downloads a photo, the individual will not have the exif data of the photo. But, make no mistake, the social network you use has all your exif data in their archive. So, it’s recommended to strip the exif data from the photograph before you share it with anyone else.
Exif data gives a lot of information about the photograph which can be useful for experimenting your photography methods but when others get hold of that information, it is nothing less than a nightmare torment.
Albeit smartphones have made our lives much simpler, they have become 24*7 spying devices. The worst part is that we buy them knowing this. We have allowed ourselves to be spied on.
Our data is stored, analysed and sold to advertising companies. We don’t even have to upload our photos on the internet. A normal iCloud sync will upload a trove of personal data to Apple’s servers, the purpose of which they claim, is to “serve us”.
Capturing and sharing photos is something that we do way too often. Remember that “Allow this application to access the camera?” permission. It is an essential access we need to provide to take pictures using the app but as soon as you give the access, the application has the permission to take photos and record video every time the app runs, even if you are not using the app to capture a picture. They run in the background without any notice. The microphone access is similar. Once you provide the application with that permission, virtually every decibel of sound is picked up by the application. With WhatsApp, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram under its control, Facebook is incredibly notorious in this art.
A question arises now. If all the applications record us all the time and data is sent to their servers, where is the data usage? Though it is cannot be countered with an agreeable answer now, the very fact that an application in your phone has the ability to even do this should make us fearful.
So, what is the use of this 24×7 data of about the majority of the world’s population. Who benefits from this ?
Have you noticed that when you keep searching something on the internet, say a book, and you find advertisements about the book popping all over the screen, at times quoting the Amazon prices ?
The main difference between mass media such as newspaper, radio, television and the internet in the field of advertising is that the internet is a one-to-one, many-to-many communication whereas the others are one-to-many communication systems. What do they mean?
One to Many: This is the traditional advertising model where advertisements are made, sending the same message to the whole of the audience, like for example in a television channel. The message goes in one direction. It is difficult to ascertain if the message is properly received by the audience, especially if it is done using newspaper or radio.
One to One: This form of communication is fast growing with the evolution of the internet. The advertising platform gets data from what you see, what you search on the internet, how long you see it. Based on this data, the advertising platform advertises the ad most suitable for you, all over the web page.
Many to Many: A practical example is when a company selling routers wants to advertise their product. They find a twitter profile in the networking genre with over a million followers. The company pays an agreed amount to the owner of the twitter profile and the profile is used to promote the product. In this way, the company reaches to a tailored audience. These promotions on the social media profile eventually get shared to a larger audience with several comments and shares pouring through, extending the reach to a larger group of people than just the direct followers of the twitter page, thus enabling a many-to-many communication.
Advertising may be the main reason for which our data is collected and “profiled” but ignoring the other ways in which our data can be used is just foolish. The tech companies and intelligence agencies have tailored information about you. You can lie. The data gathered cannot lie (It can be used to lie, though). This large amount of information can be used as a means of blackmail. Suppose you have some information on Google or the CIA which you think the public should know but would deteriorate the public’s confidence in them. With 24×7 data gathering, CIA/Google will eventually know that you are going to leak. Now, they can easily blackmail you by threatening to leak sensitive information about you. There will definitely be some information that you don’t want even your best friend to know. What do you do?
The above passage might have been a bit dramatic but do you really think that there is no way that would happen? Information on it’s citizens will give the government the power to control them by controlling what they see and what they hear. Next time an uprising takes place against the government or the intelligence agencies, look into how the uprising is controlled and eventually changes direction forgetting the the actual motive. If the government does not bother to control the uprising, remember that it is the government/intelligence agencies which created the uprising in the first place. Several uprisings in Iran, Russian are a courtesy of the CIA. We’ll look into that in a later article.
We give out data.
Ordered or “profiled” data is information. Information is knowledge. Knowledge is power. Power is control.
Social networking sites are advertising platforms offering an additional service of connecting people. Don’t ever think that the service is free. Your privacy is the fee.
In the long list of apps like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Google Search, Google Maps, GMail, Android, Google Translate, we pay our privacy as the fee. Is this fee enough for these companies to give their employees million dollar salaries, the money to build new offices, server farms, maintenance charges? You want the fee in monetary terms?
- The market cap of TCS, a company with around 400,000 employees in 46 countries, is $100 billion.
- Facebook bought WhatsApp, a company then with 55 employees, for $19 billion.
- How does the market cap of a company with 12,000 employees, touch $72 billion? Why does the Saudi Arabian government, SoftBank keep pouring millions of dollars a ride sharing app which is just 200 megabytes of data?
- Why is an internet connection so cheap? Why do Google and Facebook keep competing to provide free internet to all? Why not free water, free food or free medicine?
- The reason is obvious. With free internet, what the get in return is highly profitable. They have a higher target audience. They have the world in their control.
To be continued . . .
Image Courtesy: pixabay.com
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