Social media platforms give individuals around the world a way to express their opinion on topics ranging from the serious to the “savage dank.” But whether you’re sharing your passion for vegan chia bowls or getting the word out for #Trump2016, none of the information you post will remain private. These digital details are collected and aggregated by the powerful tools and technology behind ‘Big Data’, which helps a multitude of interested third parties access your online activity. For anyone who values their privacy, this brave new world of digital data presents a host of concerns. But by being armed with a more complete understanding of the full picture you can better protect yourself and your personal information.
Big Data for Business
Data collection firms, like Brandwatch Analytics, use complex algorithms to gather information from social media sites. These algorithms can aggregate information from posts, images, and user habits. In most situations, this information is compiled into reports that are distributed to corporations. From this point, corporations use detailed profiles of potential consumers to create advertisements. For example, if a report reveals that runners in Washington D.C. prefer light shoes, corporations may concentrate their advertising efforts on minimalist athletic attire. This strategy is essentially an upgraded version of old methods. In the past, large companies like Google used the browsing and buying habits of people on the Internet to display suitable advertisements. While this method certainly has its advantages, direct data mining through social media gives corporations actionable intelligence about consumers.
Big Data and the Law
In addition to corporations using such information to their advantage, governments use data mining to gather intelligence about their citizens – specifically anyone they deem “suspicious.” Since the American government’s implementation of the Patriot Act, several bureaus have invaded the privacy of citizens by collecting data from social media, text messages, instant messages, and phone calls. According to government officials, this data mining is performed for national security purposes, but that has yet to be seen.
Under the Obama Administration, American intelligence bureaus have attempted to use data mining to identify domestic terrorists – but despite these intentions, there is no evidence that suggests that mining data from social media is an effective way to find terrorists. Because there is no established criteria for data related to terrorism and the fact that there are over one billion people on Facebook, it is also a statistical rarity to find any sort of terrorist through social media alone. Although data from social media is unlikely to lead to the identification of terrorists in the United States and overseas, the American government continues to use defense funds to monitor Facebook and Twitter – the FBI even has job listings posted for social media monitoring experts.
Your Data and Other Third-Party Groups
But not only are corporations and government officials looking into your social media goods, political campaigns have made data mining a part of their overall strategy to attract voters. By analyzing the social media posts and online habits of potential voters, campaigns can create advertisements that seem appealing to a specific user based on his/her beliefs and interests. The campaign of Ted Cruz used social media data to create psychological profiles for thousands of potential voters; with this data, he has been able to appeal to voters’ religious preferences, economic beliefs, and philosophical values. But Ted Cruz is not the only candidate to utilize data mining; Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both used online information about Americans to refine their strategies.
Protect Ya Net
While data mining is an ethical issue, it can still expose you to a number of risks including identity theft, fraud, and potential physical harm. Furthermore, in today’s era where almost all formerly analog devices have been brought online, social media isn’t the only entity your information is being sourced from – increasingly sophisticated “smart home” systems that control hubs of home entertainment, security systems, and even message communication are rife with opportunities for personal data mining. Though users of social media and of such home systems may not be able to completely eliminate the chance of being monitored, there are some things that can be done to make surveillance a very difficult endeavor.
One of the first things that you should do to protect yourself online is encrypt all of the messages that you send. For emails, there is plenty of encryption software available on the market. Facebook messages can be encrypted using tools like Safechat. You can also protect your information by establishing a virtual private network which will create an additional server that conceals your location and IP address. This may not help you protect information stored on the Internet, but it can keep unauthorized individuals from intercepting your data. And for added security, though most left to the highly skilled computer-wiz, you can use the Tor network, a multi-tiered system that makes it extremely difficult for even top-level government agencies to access protected computers.
Unfortunately, the fact that our social media accounts are constantly monitored by a number of different entities isn’t going to change anytime soon. Data mining, though a very invasive practice that can compromise private information and security, can be said to benefit business in a substantial way. Bottom line, you should never post anything online that you wouldn’t want the general public to see so by taking precautions and making use of available technologies, you can avoid the pitfalls of being spied on.