Each day, the world makes 250 million terabytes of new data – every second 946 Instagram photos are taken, 8,690 tweets are posted, 77,783 things are searched on Google, and 2,845,459 emails are sent and received all over the world. With all of this new data, keeping your data private and away from prying eyes that will exploit any information about you is becoming more difficult by the day. Most people have no idea who owns their data, let alone what they are doing with it.
Google tracks a lot more than what websites you visit and your email – it can track what apps you use and when, if you signed in with your Google account, what type of device you are using, and what you watch read and search, including YouTube, News, Books, and Google Search. It can track where you go and where you plan to go and when with Google Maps and Calendar, where you parked your car, where your home is, where your work is, and more.
It can also track and record what you say after you say “OK Google”- in one case, the file containing all Google’s data on a single person was 20 gigabytes, equal to a 12 million page text file. But why do ad companies and Google even bother recording seemingly useless data about little things in your life that can’t seemingly affect anyone?
Developers can use the data they collect from you to show ads that they think would appeal more to you, thus generating profit by trying to sell you things that it thinks you will like. On most devices, you will have an “Advertising ID” and this is locked to your phone’s permanent hardware identifiers, such as your MAC address, IMEI and Android ID. This user data can be worth about $182 for a Google user’s Advertising ID – for Facebook, it’s $158. Law enforcement can use this data to track your every move.
Using this kind of data, in one experiment, researchers could predict what someone would post on social media with an astounding 95% accuracy – even if prior they didn’t even have an account. In 2013, Facebook admitted to accidentally leaking information gathered on users – including phone numbers and email addresses that users hadn’t even shared. 270,000 people used the “This Is Your Digital Life” App for Facebook – but the app was able to gather data on 87 million people on behalf of Cambridge Analytics.
Also in 2013, the developers of “Brightest Flashlight Free” settled with the FTC after allegations that the app failed to inform its users that the app shared their location data and identifiers. In 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook threatened to remove Uber from the App Store after learning that Uber’s app was collecting iOS users’ hardware identifiers. In 2019, the state of New Mexico sued Tiny Lab Productions and ad companies owned by both Google and Twitter, alleging that their games compromised children’s right to privacy.
It’s time to check the settings on your phone and apps to take back your privacy.
Find out how to stay away from apps that can steal your data and find more online security tips here.