Four years ago, Americans across the country were preparing to cast their ballots for the 45th President of the United States. The 2016 election not only spawned unconventional and divisive campaigns that led to a stunning upset but also features the kind of cloak-and-dagger stuff that movies are made of. In fact, a movie was produced that highlights how social media sites and data firms harvest and use data to influence and sell people things — including political candidates and agendas.
If you haven’t seen it yet, the 2019 Netflix documentary The Great Hack should be on your pre-election reading list. The 2-hour documentary explores how Russian-linked data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica exploited the personal data of 50 million US Facebook users and used their information, without their knowledge or consent, to target vulnerable and impressionable Americans with political propaganda.
Cambridge Analytica’s former Director of Business Development Brittany Kaiser blew the whistle on the data firm after they showed their employees how much data they collected, how they modeled it, how they identified those individuals that were vulnerable, and the types of disinformation they sent to those people to sway their votes. “It was the most horrific two days of my life,” said Kaiser. Cambridge Analytica claimed to have 5,000 data points on every single American voter.
Who provides big tech and data firms with thousands of data points? You do. Those Facebook quizzes that determine what Disney villain you are, or what celebrity you look like, or other seemingly innocent questions you answer and then share with your friends are harvesting data. This and other information they gather from Facebook posts and the friends you associate with are extracted with data analysis tools that use artificial intelligence and evaluations to create a startlingly accurate profile of you. It’s not just social media. Nearly every digital interaction – credit card swipes, online searches, and location tracking– is collected in real-time and attached to your identity, giving any buyer direct access to your emotional pulse.
“Data is the most valuable asset on earth.” ~ Brittany Kaiser
After watching this modern-day horror story, you’ll have a much better understanding of the reality of data tracking, harvesting, and selling, and how so many things you do today leave a trail of digital psychological clues that just about anyone can – and often will – use to their advantage. It may, and should, cause you to stop and consider the digital footprints you leave behind on the world wide web. The internet isn’t just where you socialize and buy things – it’s where you and everything about you are up for sale.
“In today’s surveillance economy, you are the product. Now more than ever, it’s critical that consumers take action to protect themselves from unwanted third-party tracking.” ~ Richard Stokes, CEO/Founder, Winston Privacy
In today’s digitally connected society, there is no silver bullet that will offer 100% protection of your data. Winston Privacy was founded to give you back control of your personal data and limit the amount of data that you are leaking all over the place.
Whether you watch “The Great Hack” or not (we hope you do!), keep these three things in mind:
- If you put any personal information on social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn – you can expect it to be gathered and used.
- No matter how fun or interesting a social media quiz seems, if it requires you to gain access using your Facebook account, don’t do it. The only purpose of these quizzes is to gather your personal data.
- Check to see what apps already have access to your data. Many sites and apps use Facebook Connect logins as their logins. There are likely apps that you may not be using or that you may not even be aware are accessing down your data. Delete these.