It’s hard to imagine that you would let anyone, especially complete strangers, sit next to you or look over your shoulder while you’re texting with friends, colleagues, or family members. Or that you’d allow those strangers to watch which websites you choose to visit, or what purchases you choose to make when you’re online. You wouldn’t think of it, would you? Of course not. Yet – that’s exactly what’s happening when you’re using Facebook, Apple, or Google because all of those entities collect all of your information when you’re online. Even worse, they often share or sell that information to third parties, because that’s how they make money.
The fact is, you need to know how Google, Apple, and Facebook collect and use your private information because you have a right to know before you use their services. After all, you might not chat about certain topics or visit certain websites if you knew in advance that everything you do is being monitored. And if this bit of information bothers you to the point of anger, think about this: you agreed to it when you signed up for their services. Most people don’t read the privacy agreements they authorize, but Google, Apple, and Facebook told you they were going to do this when you signed the big tech companies’ consent agreements.
Welcome to Data Mining
All of the private information these tech companies collect, aggregate, and ultimately distribute or sell is called data mining. If you’d like to see some of the private information that’s collected about you, you can do a search typing Google information on me in the Google search bar. That’s where you’ll get a summary of the Google data in your account. Quite frankly, in the digital age we live in, personal data is the most valuable commodity, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
That’s why all the big tech companies monitor and collect every one of your clicks, shares, likes and views, because when they do, their cash register rings. Who buys this information? Advertisers, for one. By knowing what you like to view, what you like to buy, what you like to share with others, they can tailor their ads and target you with products and services you’re likely to respond to. That’s target marketing at its most basic – and it works.
A Closer Look at Data Collection: Google
Let’s start with the information that Google collects, since they control 90% of all online searches. If you use Google, as just about everyone does in one way or another, you can assume that they collect everything you do on their platform. That includes your searches, your email activity, the locations you’re searching from, which apps you use, all of the videos you watched on YouTube, and much more. Here’s another thing: when you sign up for Google, you provide all of your PII (Personally Identifiable Information) to them, so they have a pretty solid profile on you before you even start. If you’d like to take a closer look at what data Google collects, go to Google Takeout, where you can download the data they gather.
All of the data Google collects is used to create personal profiles that help them sell over $100 billion in targeted ads each year. That’s about 90% of their revenue. While Google doesn’t “sell” your data to others, they do use your data to build their targeted ads which brings in that huge amount of revenue. So even though your data isn’t sold, you can see how valuable it is to the company.
Data Collection: Apple
Apple makes a very big deal about its commitment to privacy, which you’ll see if you view any product launch the company produces. In fact, unlike other big tech companies, their commitment to privacy is what differentiates them in the market. However, you should know that they still collect data from their users. That includes metadata on various products like FaceTime, photos, iCloud, Maps, and more.
Advertising is less important to Apple than Google or Facebook. Instead, Apple uses its data collection to provide a more personalized experience for users of its entertainment apps, like Music, Movies, News, TV+ and others. Also, like Google and Facebook, Apple does place targeted ads for advertisers, so while it isn’t selling data directly, it’s using that data to generate revenue for the company.
Data Collection: Facebook
Facebook has 2.8 billion users, which is an awful lot of data that’s collected. Because they’re building individual profiles of users for advertisers, Facebook collects just about everything: your searches, your friends, Messenger activity – plus your browser activity, how many times you’ve visited a site, personal details, and so on. Remember, you agreed to this when you signed up.
As a matter of fact, Facebook even tracks some of your real-world activities, like when you check-in at in-person locations. If you’d like to see exactly what they’re collecting, go to Your Facebook Information portal, where you can download your data. When it comes to asking whether or not Facebook sells your data, the answer is “not exactly.” What Facebook does is it allows advertisers and Facebook partners to post personalized ads on the company’s platform. The ads are targeted to specific consumers based on their activity on Facebook.
To get a better understanding of what each tech company does with the data it collects, visit their privacy information page. Some people consider data collection something that should be regulated, but as long as people continue to give “permission” to these companies in their agreements, it’s hard to argue that data collection should be reigned in.