User’s data has become gold in this new digital realm, a precious asset that needs to be harvested, gathered or forcedly grabbed whatever the cost. Tech giants have made their existence out of it for years, selling them to third parties or using them to take advantage in their marketing strategies.
In their well-disguised business models, most of the companies (not only social media enterprises but apps developers, internet tools, open-source software, internet browsers, governments gateways, etc.) have built a whole system where they provide a free service in contrast to gather user’s personal information. A fair deal indeed if these users were told what info was collected and with what goal was it for.
“From consumer behavior to predictive analytics, companies regularly capture, store and analyze large amounts of data on their consumer base every day. Some companies have even built an entire business model around consumer data, whether they create targeted ads or sell to a third party. Customer data is big business,” said expert Adam C. Uzialko in a recent article.
In fact, today’s internet live on thanks to this data-focused idea. The easiest and clearest example is that the two most used platforms are Google and Facebook, which they account for up to 84% of global digital media . Both companies follow similar business-consumer principles. In a very simple basis, everything is given for free, but users must be duly signed in and all the data-collecting tools openly functioning.
The ways these companies, along with almost all of those in the sector, use are various, some coming from user’s giving them actively while others sneak in from behind. Director of data science at Elicit, Liam Hanham, explained it like this:
“Customer data can be collected in three ways – by directly asking customers, by indirectly tracking customers, and by appending other sources of customer data to your own,” said Hanham. “A robust business strategy needs all three.”
For example, and referring to social media giants, Facebook and Twitter collects data from tracking a user’s precise location through the phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS). And although this can be refused by the user, they still have means to keep seeing where that phone is going to. Facebook, for example, collects location-related information aside from the phone’s GPS. Like that, it still tracks where that user is according to IP addresses, “check-ins or events.” On the other hand, Twitter also “requires” information about a user’s current location, “which we get from signals such as your IP address or device settings.” This is so it can ·securely and reliably set up and maintain your account,” according to their Policies.
This is used for these companies to offer hyper-specialized ads relating to events they assist or restaurants they like to go. This helps them to build a personalized data not only from what they actively provide but also contrasted by on-the-ground more reliable information.
Surprisingly, in the search of building up the most accurate profile, some companies even keep records of deleted search history, messages, pictures, meta-data and other manually entered information. Facebook, taken as example as one of the biggest data-collectors along the web, “offers the option to delete searches from their history, giving the user the impression that records of their searches are wiped clean. The problem, however, is that they aren’t. Their data policy states that while search history can be deleted at any time, “the log of that search is deleted after 6 months,” said reporters Tom Calver and Joe Miller in a recent BBC article.
Having access to this “old” data gives companies valuable information about what worked and didn’t in previous ad campaigns or how user’s behaviour have changed in time. Data Director Liam Hanham mentioned that through this method “they are incorporating direct feedback about what worked and what didn’t, what a customer liked and disliked, on a grand scale.”
The third method in which user’s data is gathered comes from other sources, literally. Companies that operate within the web often share or even sell user’s data as any other company’s asset. In fact, most of terms and conditions policies across the biggest organizations explicitly lay this on their contracts. The likes of Amazon or Apple, taken as example, “may share this data with information processing or extending credit companies, among others.” Liam Hanham goes even further and says that “once captured, this information is regularly changing hands in a data marketplace of its own.”
Internet users are today’s customers… and, more importantly, the ones of tomorrow. Whilst the internet keeps expanding through businesses and citizens alike, making physical interaction nothing else but an emblematic experience along the way, companies have very little options left but to try to reach customers over this new digital world. In here, customers aren’t much of people but online profiles with credit cards, and companies can go very far to reach them.
However, they have always hung on the edge of what is ethical or not, what is intrusive for the users or, on the other hand, if they respect their privacy. Unfortunately, recent scandals regarding giant techs such Facebook and security breaches on governments have proved otherwise, for the worse of the people.
Hernaldo Turrillo is a freelance journalist working now for IntelligentHQ. Hernaldo was born in Spain and finally settled in London, United Kingdom, after a few years of personal growth. Hernaldo finished his Journalism bachelor degree in the University of Seville, Spain, and began working as reporter in the newspaper, Europa Sur, writing about Politics and Society. He also worked as community manager and marketing advisor in Los Barrios, Spain. Innovation, technology, politics and economy are his main interests, with special focus on new trends and ethical projects. He enjoys finding himself getting lost in words, explaining what he understands from the world and helping others. He was born journalist and became a thinker. Knowledge has no limits.