Tech companies store and sell personal data


Photo Courtesy of Pexa

Some of the most common apps being showcased on a smartphone.

By Chantelle Hicks, Columnist

Technology is advancing faster than our society is prepared to handle. Often, we mindlessly open Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to scroll through our feeds and look at entertaining images, updates or events. But consider why some of the biggest social media platforms are free. If we aren’t paying for their services, how are these social media platforms making millions? The easy answer is through ads placed throughout your feed. In lieu of a physical good, social media users have become a product to be sold to advertisers. These platforms are making their fortunes from selling our information.

It is nearly impossible to maintain control over personal information regardless of rigid privacy settings manually chosen by the user. Hundreds of security breaches have occurred within Facebook, Google, Apple and other tech companies. But people still use these platforms as if those breaches had never occurred. Why? Because consumers aren’t asking the right questions or paying close attention to how and what data is being collected. We know that it’s happening, but how is it being used, and why are we unaware of its collection and storage?

Many of us have installed GPS applications on our phones. However, fewer people are aware that information may be collected about the user even while the application is closed. This information may then be used for product ad placement if your demographics lie within a company’s target audience, which means data is being mined regarding your most visited places, favorite routes and transportation patterns to make this targeting more accurate and create lookalike audiences. Many of the third-party companies the data is being sold to are advertising agencies. This data is then sold, analyzed and packaged back to their clients to buy.

The invasion of privacy doesn’t stop there. Facebook keeps track of deleted messages, photos and passwords and puts them up for sale. So my question to you is: At what point is data collection something the public should take issue with? Not only are users unaware of the tracking, but they also don’t know who’s buying it and how it’s being stored.

The terms and agreements these apps ask you to accept before use are entirely too long to read in one sitting. This is done purposely by tech companies to trick consumers into agreements that they otherwise would disagree with. Often, users are signing away their right to privacy.  

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Many people believe if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t be worried. This may be a reasonable claim 20 years ago, but in today’s digital society, that mindset is no longer relevant to the topic. Beyond anxieties about leaks of unscrupulous information, personal information should always remain private. How would you feel if something like your social security number, address, phone number, birthday or anything else was sold without your knowledge?

These big data collection companies are collecting, packaging and selling our information, and no one seems to be worried about its effects.

There should be federal laws regulating the collection and distribution of users’ information. In a perfect world, tech companies would be completely transparent regarding how they use our data.  But, in a capitalist society, they aren’t going to do that, so the next time you stroll through Instagram, stop and think of the ways your information may be in use.

Chantelle is a sophomore in Media.

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