Corporate Surveillance in Everyday Life. The Past, the Present, or the Future?
Updated on July 13, 2021: From now on, traffic filtering, malware protection, and suspicious DNS activity blocking are available as a part of the separate DNS Firewall app.
Most of us know this kind of guy. You know, the one who is always concerned with internet privacy, claiming that governments are watching everyone and that corporations surveil your every step. Always setting firewalls, using other security services, and overall paranoid. Weird pal, right? Well, in the light of recent researches, it might be about time to recall the adage about he who gets the last laugh.
The discoveries we’re talking about address the ways how nowadays various parties get their hands on your personal information. Which turn out plenty! And the situation is aggravated by the digital ignorance of most internet users. Let us explain our point.
The very fact of systematic consumer surveillance is not new. For decades, numerous data brokers have been gathering consumer information from all sorts of sources: court records, lists from surveys, newspaper subscriptions, purchases from loyalty programs, data from banks, etc.
This is the kind of surveillance that most people are used to. They know about various perils associated with it (those related to name, postal address, phone number, etc.), and they know how to defend against them.
However, modern day technology jeopardizes different kind of personal data. Live and flexible information becomes increasingly valuable: location, account, email, cookie ID’s, etc. Unfortunately, most people don’t have time or do not want to learn how various parties gather and use their consumer information. They believe that somehow their data lays unused as long as no hacker or malware gets to it.
In reality, EVERY bit of your information has its price and is constantly collected. Publicly available online data, browser history and behaviors, social media accounts, smartphone and app usage, online purchases – all this and much more is well-known to the internet. If that wasn’t concerning enough, companies don’t keep their bits of knowledge about you under their hat. Quite opposite, they actively exchange this data with each other. For example, the developer of a geolocation service for your smartphone can sell your daily location data to your local shops along with your phone number. Thanks to that, the shops can now send you invitations and ads.
The result of such corporate data exchange is a comprehensive profile of every consumer. As mentioned before, this data is most often used for online advertisement. However, here is the fun part – you can never know which of your personal data exactly is gathered and shared by digital publishers, nor how third parties use it. Recent studies show that 95% of the pages you visit have third-party activity trackers installed, and from 60% to 95% of apps share personal data with third parties.
Smartphones are probably the biggest contributors to corporate surveillance. They provide detailed insights on users’ everyday life and personality. And since most apps require users to have Microsoft, Google, or Apple account, it doesn’t take much time to link your device with an identifier of a major platform.
In case you were wondering – no, mobile app publishers and websites are not restricted from buying user data. In fact, the amount of devices that are used for tracking is ever-growing – now the list includes wearables, thermostats, printers, toys, and even cars. Just imagine what access to your behaviors companies get through numerous life contexts!
Online advertising is an enormous industry with a developed ecosystem of tracking technologies, publishers, advertisers, ad exchanges, personalization services, etc. It follows hundreds of millions individuals across their whole lives. And this industry constantly attracts others. Retailers, media conglomerates, telecom companies, ISP’s are quite obvious as both users and contributors of the collected data. But what if banks start using customers’ information to decide whether to lend loan or not? Or insurance companies utilizing fitness trackers’ info about the user’s unhealthy lifestyle to deny paying insurance?
As you can see, the private person, despite being the source of the data, has no way to know the whole picture of what’s done with the said data. At this point such state of events can be justified by the youth of the online advertising industry and the lack of regulation. But it also creates a potential for conflicts in the future debates between the industry participants. The ad party will claim that they’ve been allowed to do things as it is, and it’s too late to change the system. The security party will counter that the former should have worked responsibly, and that now it’s time for the regulation to interfere.
What can be done at this point then? Well, there is definitely no reason to overextend and secure every piece of your data. However, the important parts of information, such as your credentials, traffic, location, etc. can and must be protected. One of the ultimate solutions is using a VPN service, for example VPN Unlimited. It encrypts all of your traffic, meaning no third party will be able to read and analyze your data when they get it. What’s more, it masks your real IP address, which means disabling any possibilities of geo-tracking and matching your behavior to a specific location.
Interested? Download VPN Unlimited and get a 7-day free trial (no cc) to check its efficiency. And don’t forget to tell us what you think about corporate consumer surveillance in the comments below!