Privacy vs. Big Data: How Tech Giants Are Exploiting Us in The Name of Privacy

By Haseeb Awan

Online privacy is one of the biggest concerns in the world at present. We are all spooked about how a simple, verbal conversation about handbags in your room results in many ads pouring over your Instagram every minute. And sure, many tech giants will argue that this data collection only aims to streamline our online experience so that we can only view the kind of content we want, not randomness. 

But data security on the web has always been a complex matter. Yes, data collection does result in a seamless online experience. But the risks involved with Big Data and how, despite all internet privacy measures, data is still left to be exploited by attackers and even tech giants will take a while to solve. 

What is Big Data?

Big data refers to large and complex data sets that are difficult to process and analyze using traditional data processing techniques. These data sets can come from various sources, such as social media, sensors, and online transactions, and can include structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data.

One of the key characteristics of big data is its volume. The amount of data being generated and collected is growing at an unprecedented rate, with some estimates projecting that the amount of data worldwide will increase by 40% each year. This data can come from various sources, such as social media, internet of things (IoT) devices, and e-commerce transactions.

Another characteristic of big data is its variety. This data can come in many forms, such as text, images, videos, and audio. This data can also be structured, semi-structured, or unstructured, making it difficult to process and analyze using traditional data processing techniques.

Big data also has a high velocity, meaning that it is generated and collected at a fast pace. This can make it difficult to process and analyze in real time, which is essential for many applications such as fraud detection, traffic management, and weather forecasting.

The most common application of big data is using technologies and analytics to gain insights and make better decisions. For example, companies can use big data to improve customer service, optimize the supply chain, and personalize marketing. In healthcare, big data can improve patient outcomes and reduce costs.

Several new technologies and tools, such as Hadoop, Spark, and NoSQL databases, have been developed to process and analyze big data. These technologies make it possible to store, process, and analyze large and complex data sets in a distributed and parallelized manner.

However, big data also poses challenges, such as online privacy and data security on the web. As big data is often used to gain insights into individuals and organizations, it is crucial to ensure that it is protected and used ethically. Additionally, big data can create biased or misleading models if the data used to train them is not representative of the population.

What is The Risk Involved With Data Sharing?

Sharing data online can come with several risks. One of the main risks is data breaches, which occur when unauthorized individuals gain access to sensitive information. This access can happen for various reasons, such as weak security protocols, hacking, and phishing scams. Data breaches can result in the theft of personal information, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, and login credentials. This data can then play a part in financial fraud and identity theft.

Another risk associated with sharing data online is data misuse. Misuse can occur when companies or organizations collect and use personal data in ways individuals did not intend or expect. For example, a company may collect browsing habits data to target advertising and then use that data to make decisions about credit or employment.

Data sharing can also lead to online privacy concerns. When data is shared, it may be subject to different laws and regulations in different countries, making it challenging to ensure that it is protected and used ethically. Additionally, the more shared data, the more difficult it can be to ensure that it is kept private.

Another risk is data manipulation which is when someone unauthorized alters the data. This alteration can happen in many ways, for example, by changing the data or by adding fake data. Data manipulation can have serious consequences, such as distorting the information, leading to wrong decisions, or damaging the company or organization's reputation.

Data sharing can also create biased or misleading models if the data used to train them is not representative of the population. For example, suppose the data used to train a model to identify faces is predominantly from one race or gender. In that case, the model may not accurately identify individuals from other races or genders.

One of the critical risks associated with sharing private data online is the potential for data to be used for malicious purposes, such as creating targeted ads or political campaigns or even creating mass surveillance systems. Additionally, suppose data is shared with third parties. In that case, it may be used for purposes that individuals did not intend or expect, such as targeted advertising or creating profiles of individuals without their knowledge or consent.

Protecting personal data and being aware of the potential consequences of sharing data online are essential to mitigate these risks. This mitigation can include implementing robust security protocols, being cautious about shared data types, and being aware of the laws and regulations that apply to data sharing. Additionally, it is vital to be aware of the potential biases in the data and take steps to address them.

Therefore, many risks are involved with private data sharing, including online privacy breaches, data misuse, privacy concerns, data manipulation, and biased or misleading models. It is essential to be aware of these risks and take steps to protect personal data, including implementing robust security protocols and being aware of the laws and regulations that apply to data sharing. Additionally, it is essential to be aware of the potential biases in the data and take steps to address them.

Privacy Exploitation vs. Big Data in The Hands of Tech Giants

The Role of Tech Giants in Big Data

Tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple have been criticized recently for their data collection practices and relatively lax online privacy rules. 

For example, like many technology companies, Microsoft has been criticized for its data collection practices and potential impact on user privacy. However, the extent to which Microsoft has endangered user privacy in recent years is a matter of perspective and opinion. Whether the company's practices are dangerous depends on how you view them.

One of the main concerns regarding Microsoft and user privacy is its data collection from Windows users. The company has been criticized for collecting a wide range of data from Windows users, including location data, search queries, and usage patterns, which can be used for targeted advertising and product improvement. In response, Microsoft has implemented several changes to its data collection practices to increase transparency and give users more control over their data.

Additionally, Microsoft has been criticized for its involvement in government surveillance, specifically the PRISM program, which further played a role in jeopardizing internet privacy. Microsoft has been accused of providing the National Security Agency (NSA) direct access to its user's data, including email, chat, and video. However, Microsoft has denied giving the government direct access to its servers and has stated that it only provides the government with data in response to specific legal requests.

Another concern is Microsoft's use of telemetry data. Telemetry data is data that is collected about the way a product is used. Microsoft has been criticized for collecting telemetry data without providing users with enough information about what data is being collected and how it is being used. Microsoft has stated that the telemetry data is used to improve the security and reliability of its products, but some users have raised concerns about the potential for data misuse.

Apple has been criticized for a few specific online privacy practices. One area of criticism is its handling of user data for targeted advertising. Critics argue that Apple collects too much data on its users and that the company needs to be more transparent about how that data is used. Another area of criticism is its partnerships with third-party data companies. Some critics have raised concerns that these partnerships may compromise the privacy of Apple users.

Another criticism is that Apple's privacy features often need to be enabled by default, and users must actively opt-in to use them. These features have led to criticism that the company needs to protect users' data.

Other than that, Apple has been criticized for its data collection practices on apps. Some developers claim they could collect data even on users with limited ad tracking. This data collection raised concerns about how much data Apple collects and how it's used.

 Even though these tech giants constantly discuss online privacy measures, they may not necessarily be at the forefront of their concerns. And even though most data sharing is done for advertisement, we can only sometimes track when private data falls into the wrong hands and is misused. 

The Risk of Lack of Online Privacy

The lack of online privacy can lead to many risks for individuals and society. Often, people can't even predict when a concern regarding data security on the web will cause some trouble for them. Knowing the risks involved with the lack of online privacy is essential so that people and companies know exactly what is at stake. Some of the most significant risks include the following:

Identity Theft: 

Personal information, such as names, addresses, and financial information, can be easily collected and used by criminals to steal identities and commit fraud. The penalty for identity theft is quite huge, but it can be difficult to trace it online. And seasoned hackers and cybercriminals can continue changing identities or repeatedly misuse the same identity without being caught. Sometimes, the impersonated individual finds out when it's too late. 

Cyberstalking and Harassment: 

Personal information, such as location and browsing history, can be used to track and harass individuals online. For example, many content creators on the web often talk about how a controversial opinion or misstep caused them to be harassed and abused for days on end. 

Discrimination: 

Browsing history, search queries, and online behavior can be used to discriminate against individuals based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, and other personal characteristics. People often have to deal with a lot of bullying for this reason. 

Political Manipulation: 

Personal information, such as political views, can be collected and used to influence elections and manipulate public opinion. In many countries, sharing political opinions on the web is banned because of the severe repercussions it can have for the individual and the political movement. 

Loss of Autonomy: 

The constant collection of private data by tech companies and governments can make individuals feel like they are constantly being watched and monitored, leading to a loss of autonomy and self-determination. People often experience bad mental health, constant stress, and anxiety whenever they make a wrong move while being monitored. 

Damage to Reputation: 

Personal information, such as browsing history, search queries, and online behavior, can be used to harm an individual's reputation and career. People have been expelled from institutions because of their online activity. And this is because of the sheer lack of online privacy.

Lack of Trust:

The lack of online privacy can lead to a lack of trust in tech companies, governments, and society, which can negatively affect the economy and democracy. If more and more people face the repercussions of the lack of online privacy, they will want to not associate with Big Data at all.

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How Can Tech Giants do Better?

While individual practices also need to fix the issue of online privacy, the real burden lies on tech giants. Since they hold all of the private data and internet security online, they should take appropriate measures to make the internet a predominantly safe place. There are many steps that tech giants can take to improve their data privacy practices.

Increase Transparency: 

Tech giants should be transparent about what data they collect, how it's used, and who it's shared with. They should provide clear and easily accessible privacy policies for users to understand.

Give Users Control: 

Tech giants should give users more control over their data, including the ability to delete their data or opt out of data collection altogether.

Implement Strong Security Measures: 

Tech giants should implement strong security measures to protect user data from unauthorized access, hacking, and other cyberattacks.

Be Accountable: 

Tech giants should be held accountable for their data privacy practices by regularly auditing their data collection and usage practices and being willing to comply with regulatory requirements and industry standards.

Encourage Privacy by Design: 

Tech giants should encourage developers to design apps and services with privacy in mind.

Implement default privacy settings: 

Tech giants should implement default privacy settings that protect users' data rather than requiring users to opt-in to privacy features.

Limit Data Collection: 

Tech giants should limit the data they collect and retain and only collect what is necessary for their service.

Be Honest About Data Breaches: 

Tech giants should be honest and open with their users if their data is compromised in a security breach.

What Can We Do to Enforce Privacy?

Of course, people also need to fend for themselves and implement personal measures to ensure online privacy. Individuals can take several steps to enforce their online privacy:

Use Strong Passwords And Multi-Factor Authentication: 

Strong Passwords And Multi-Factor Authentication can help protect your accounts from hacking and unauthorized access.

Use A VPN: 

A virtual private network (VPN) can help encrypt your internet connection and protect your online activity from being tracked. VPNs are a surefire way to conceal your activity online and ensure privacy. 

Be Cautious About Your Online Activity: 

Think twice before sharing personal information online, such as your home address or phone number. Be careful about which apps and services you use, and read their privacy policies carefully to understand what data they collect and how it's used.

Control Your Social Media Settings: 

Use the privacy settings on your social media accounts to control who can see your posts and personal information. Use browser extensions that block tracking cookies, encrypt your connection and improve your online privacy.

Be Aware Of Phishing Scams: 

Be aware of phishing scams, which are attempts to trick you into giving away personal information or clicking on a link that will install malware on your device. For most experienced internet users, identifying phishing scams is easy. But it is essential to educate people who are less experienced so that they do not end up getting scammed. 

To Sum It Up

Online privacy is a massive concern in the online world. Implementing online security is difficult, especially when so much of the tech giant's revenue comes solely from ad revenue. But by bringing forth these concerns and being more active about online privacy, we can make the internet safer and more secure for everyone. 

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