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Data Dilemmas: Balancing Privacy Rights in the Age of Big Tech

The world is becoming increasingly more digital and, whilst this is a good thing for a number of different reasons, this huge shift brings with it questions and scrutiny as to what exactly these huge tech companies are doing with such vast amounts of data.

The leading tech companies, including Google, Apple, Meta, Amazon and Microsoft – giants within the tech world – have all recently been accused of following unethical practices.

From Meta being questioned in courts over its advertising regime, to Amazon facing concerns over the fact that their Echo devices are potentially recording private conversations within the home, it’s not surprising that users are looking for more information as to how their data is being used.

With this comes the counterargument that big tech companies are doing what they can to strike the balance between privacy rights and ensuring that their product and the experience users get from using them don’t change.  But, how exactly are the big tech companies using and utilising sensitive and personal data while ensuring they still meet and adhere to the ever-expanding list of privacy rights? Let’s take a look.

Is Our Data The Price We Pay For Free?

In marketplaces and stores, we exchange legitimate currency for goods and services. But, with social media and other online platforms, we’re instead paying with our attention. A lot of online users are unaware of the expansive trail of browsing and search history that they leave behind.

Almost everything is logged and monitored online, right from the very first interaction and, depending on the web browser you use, some will collect more information than others. There are costs involved in almost every digital and online service we use and it costs money to host servers and sites – so why do we get to browse for free?

Simply because the cost is being underwritten in other ways. The most common form is through advertising, but the ways that only a few people think about, or want to think about, is through the harvesting and use of our data. Every single website is tracked or recorded in different ways and by different people, from marketing agencies who analyze the performance of a website to broadband providers who check connections.

Users will struggle to understand why companies want their data, but that’s simply because they don’t quite understand the value behind it. Data is currently considered to be one of the most valuable assets, mainly because it is a non-rival entity – this means that it can be replicated for free and with little to no impact on the quality. The nature of data means that it can be used for product research, market analysis or to train and better inform AI systems. All companies want more data in order to have as many financial and legal incentives and rights as they can.

What Are Cookies?

Data tracking is done through cookies, which are small files of letters and numbers which are downloaded onto your computer when you visit a website. They are used by almost all websites for a number of reasons, such as remembering your browsing preferences, keeping a record of what you’ve added to your shopping basket or counting how many people visit the site. Cookies are why you might see ads online months after visiting a website or get emails when you’ve left something in a shopping basket online.

Why Do Big Tech Companies Want User Data?

How Laws Have Changed How Companies Use Your Data

In the EU, data is more heavily protected than it is in the US, for example. EU laws have taken a more hardline stance against the big tech companies when it comes to protecting users, with the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, in place to offer the “toughest privacy and security law in the world”.

This law makes it compulsory for companies, particularly big tech companies, to outline specifically what it is they are using data for. This law was passed in 2016 and any company which violates it is subjected to fines which either total 4% of the company’s overall revenue, or €20 million – whichever is greater. In 2019, Google was fined a huge €57 million for violating GDPR laws, citing that they posed huge security risks.

Unlike the EU, the US does not have comprehensive laws to protect online users, which is what allows these companies to have access to data that they can then use to take advantage of said data. Following the EU’s introduction of GDPR, both Facebook and Google had to change and update their privacy rights and laws, but in the US, there is still some way to go.

This is because Google makes a lot of money from their user data. Over 80% of Google’s revenue comes from the advertising aspect of its business, which allows advertisers to target ads for services and products based on what users are searching for, with this information gathered from Google. Google is the largest search engine in the world, so all of these user’s data quickly adds up. It’s been said that “Google sells the data that they collect so the ads can be better suited to user’s interests.”.

Advertisers will also make use of Google’s Analytic data, which is a service that gives companies insight into their website activity by tracking users who land on there. A few years ago, there were rumours that Google Analytics wrongly gave U.S intelligence agencies access to data from French users, whilst Google hadn’t done enough in order to ensure privacy when this data was transferred between the US and Europe.

Reasons Why Big Tech Companies Want Your User Data

  • Social media apps want information on how you use their platform in order to give you content that you actually want. TikTok in particular works to build you a customised and personalised algorithm to try and show you videos that you will actually engage with to keep you on the app for longer based on ads and content that you have previously watched and engaged with.
  • Big tech companies will be interested in your data so that they can show you relevant ads. Most of the big tech companies make a lot of money through advertising on their platform, so they want to ensure that they keep advertisers happy by showing their services or products to the consumers who are more likely to convert.
  • Your data will be used to personalise your browsing and platform experience to keep you coming back.

How Is Data Collection Changing?

One of the biggest reasons why companies are using your data is in order to serve you better when you are online. But, in terms of big tech companies, these reasons are often very different. With more and more people relying on technology provided by the likes of Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, these companies need to be more reliable and be held to accountability more so that the rights of consumers are protected.

Changes and popularity in technology such as AI and cryptocurrency are becoming increasingly more common, and with these technologies comes the increase in risks of scams and fraud, such as the recent Hyperverse case. It is important now more than ever for these companies to put user’s minds at ease and improve their privacy rights.

Originally posted 2024-04-13 23:13:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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