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Facebook And Google Are Tracking You - Here's How To Stop It

A critical view on the world of online tracking and data collection

Posted by Mathias Klenk

Last year, whistleblower Christopher Wylie revealed to the public that the analysis company Cambridge Analytica harvested the personal data of millions of Facebook users without the users’ knowledge or permission. It was done by an app that paid people to have their data collected - and it did not stop at collecting solely their data, but also collect data about their friends. Through this program, they were able to collect data about more than 85 million people.

Figure showing the amount of data collected by Cambridge Analytica

This data was then used to manipulate the U.S. Presidential 2016 elections to great success, thus, Donald J. Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States. After data privacy allegations came to light and investigations concluded, Cambridge Analytica was prompted to close its doors and Facebook faced a $5 billion fine by the FTC.

Albeit the regulations, due to the social media giant’s looming presence in our everyday lives, they can still easily gather a great amount of user data. One of the biggest revenue sources for the tech giants are advertisements - and this revenue is heavily supported by the data that’s collected about you.

Have you ever wondered why your social media feed populated the perfect holiday deal for Hawaii soon after you scrolled through pictures from Hawaii? Or similarly, for apartments? Or shoes? As long as data collectors inform the user and the user accepts their request, this doesn't pose a significant problem - but if the data is collected illegally, it's clearly an intrusion into the user’s privacy.

But how can social media platforms track you when you are not sharing any "real" information?

The most common way to do this is to use cookies. Cookies track all your activities even when you’re not actively using the service. Here’s how.

What’s more, most websites use cookies today, however, regulatory requirements have prompted them to notify their users about them.

There are tools that users can tap into to track what data Facebook has access to.

Once you log into your Facebook account, head to “Settings” and click on "Your Facebook Information" located on the left panel. You’ll spot the option to "Download Your Information" and select "View.” Here’s where you get to choose the categories you want to download.

What does Europe have to say about the rising amount of data collected?

The answer lies in the GDPR regulation. It GDPR was introduced on May 25, 2018 with the goal to protect user data belonging to European citizens. The regulation sets a framework for how data should be collected and processed, It also gives individuals legal authority over information about them. One of the key features is that if you want to have your data erased, the company has to do it without keeping any notes or information about you. The second thing is the so-called "opt-in, opt-out" clauses. "Opt-in" means that before a company contacts you directly (for example via a newsletter), you have to explicitly confirm your subscription. "Opt-out" means that there is an easy way to unsubscribe (for example via a link at the bottom of a newsletter). GDPR also contains regulations regarding the encryption of personal data.

If companies don't conform to the GDPR they have to pay large fines up to 20 million euros or 4% of their annual turnover, whichever is higher. Google and Facebook, for example, had to pay around $8.8 billion because of violating data requirements.

The GDPR may not be all that's needed to stop Facebook and Google from tracking and collecting your data. We need another solution where users exercise ownership and control over their own data. They should be empowered to decide what data they want to share and with whom they want to share it.

Identity and access management platforms, such as the Silicon Valley startup Passbase, work towards this goal. Passbase provides companies with an easy-to-integrate tool that makes identity verification easy and secure and on the other side they provide every user with an Identity consumer dashboard. On the dashboard the user can see all the data points he has shared with a company. If he doesn’t want the company to have his data anymore he can easily erase it with one click.

Picture showing the Passbase consumer dashboard on a smartphone

The Passbase consumer dashboard allows users to take full control over their identity data.

Interested? Schedule a demo to learn more.

Links:

Other Articles:

  1. Why Google Was Hit With a $57M GDPR Fine and What It Means For the Future of Data Privacy! LINK

  2. Two Trends That Prove the World Needs a Better Identity Solution LINK

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