Privacy and the Internet

Throughout its brief history of existence, the Internet has impacted the world is massive ways, from making long-distance communication possible and free exchange of information to buying and selling in the digital space. In recent years, we have started using what is known as web 2.0, which has enabled more interactivity and freedom for all internet online.

But how much has it impacted the privacy of our daily lives?

In 2016, 92% of the entire population in the UK has an active internet connection daily. This includes people from all age groups, ethnicities, genders, locations and professions. For example, students and teachers will use mobile phones, tablets and laptops throughout the day to be able to talk to friends, research information, find books and resources, and submit work. Offices, computers and workers will communicate through an online database; making the internet a vital part of daily events.

Credit: Bernard Goldbach

However, all of that comes at a price. As the internet has grown in size and importance, there is one aspect that has the biggest importance; the database. Social media companies have been able to monetise the personal information from users, and sell that information to advertisers, allowing each person to be targeted based on their likes, dislikes, location, age, etc. The most effective in this case is Facebook, which made over $6.44 billion in the last quarter of 2016 through selling the information of its 1.7 billion user database to marketers.

As smartphones have become even more advanced, location-based photo sharing through apps such as Instagram has become popular. Users can snap a picture of a place or event to show to friends and followers, but what overall impact on privacy does this have? Through this, the database of information that Instagram has of a person will grow, making more money for the company in advertising. The user also subconsciously promotes various brands, foods, or places that may be in the picture to the audience that will see.

Other companies such as Google, have used GPS technology to implement the same principle, but focusing advertising based on your location and internet search history. It has merged a person’s virtual identity to translate into real-life experiences.

“The changes said to be part of Web 2.0 are sold to users as desirable primarily because they apparently increase users’ control over their environments: freedom through control” [Hinton & Hjorth, 2013]

The reason for companies such as Facebook, Instagram and Google doing all of this at no cost for the user is to create the illusion of choice for a user. The amount of detail that is included in most user profiles on social media, can create a ‘map’ of a person’s daily life and opinions, which is invaluable information when targeting certain people. More recently, this now includes what you watch, buy, listen to, and read. The uses of this information are essential to the workings of modern day marketing companies, and government organisations.

How much data did you sell today?