“Our privacy experiment showed 5,400 hidden app trackers guzzled our data—in a single week” explained Geoffrey A. Fowler on The Washington Times about how iPhone apps violate your privacy even as you sleep. But it’s not just the apps on your Apple devices that are keeping a close eye on you. Apple is tracking your data, too, and so are Facebook and Google. For instance, Facebook tracking has been a hot topic in the media for years, with plenty of scandals and public outcry.
Ultimately, all this data collection could leave you vulnerable to numerous risks. So in this article, we’ll break down some of the common concerns of data privacy and how you can remain safe from the intrusive habits of these tech giants.
Google’s complex web of data collection
Google’s digital empire covers a broad spectrum of platforms and services like Gmail, YouTube, and Google Maps. Today, it claims more than 90% of the search market and has 1.8 billion active Gmail users. Google Maps has over 5 billion downloads. And YouTube has 2.3 billion global users and is the most popular digital video channel in the US.
This massive reach provides the tech behemoth with access to an incredible amount of user data. But it also has another advantage. Having multiple platforms, from YouTube to Google Meet, interconnected with a single Gmail address, can make it much easier to build vastly comprehensive and accurate user profiles. This means Google can draw in bits and pieces of data from its various platforms and have a sound idea of all your activities, from who you’re communicating with and where you travel to which videos you watch in your spare time.
Now, these data help Google improve its services and customize them to your unique needs. But it will also use them to remain competitive and boost ad revenue. After all, this is likely why the search giant invests so heavily to secure its dominance over digital data each year. It’s reportedly paying Apple $12 billion to maintain its default search engine position on Apple devices and giving $450 million to Mozilla to secure the default status on Firefox.
How Apple is keeping an eye on you
The advent of smart devices has given Apple a disproportionate level of access to your personal data. So, it’s not just your iPhone, iPad, or Mac that’s collecting user information. Even your Apple smartwatch, streaming device, and voice assistant are quietly gathering an excessive amount of personal details that you may not feel comfortable sharing with a stranger. For instance, Apple might know all about your health and fitness, from heart rate to sleeping habits. It might have details about calls and messages, the music you frequently listen to, and the movies you watch. It could also be sneaking up on your smart home devices and watching how you use your TV, thermostat, microwave, and lights.
And Apple’s app store adds an entirely new dimension to data collection. Its own apps and third-party ones combined could be gathering a staggering amount of personal information. They could be collecting data linked to your identity, such as your name, device ID, and purchasing history. And they might also link your data with information collected from other websites through third parties. All these intrusive practices could seriously compromise your privacy.
Facebook is collecting and sharing data, too
With nearly 2.8 billion users, Facebook dominates the social media market. Today, it doesn’t just socially connect people with friends, family, and even strangers but also serves as an important platform to get your news. This level of engagement provides the popular social media giant significant access to your personal data, not just within its platform but also outside it.
What type of data is it collecting? To begin with, it’ll have access to the information you share on your account profile, like your name, date of birth, gender, education, email address, professional details, and location. Information such as your posts, likes, comments, shares, and other activities could provide an abundance of insights, too. It will also track your IP address, ads you engage with, chats, social networks, and countless other data.
Now, this is enough to make anyone feel anxious, especially considering the number of privacy lawsuits Facebook has faced so far. The now infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal, for instance, brought to light the unauthorized data harvesting practices that exposed data belonging to 87 million Facebook users. And this year, the social media giant faced a $650 million settlement for alleged use of photo face-tagging and other biometrics without user permission. With these types of questionable information handling practices, leaving your data exposed to Facebook and its partners might not be a smart choice.
So, take charge of your data privacy
One thing is clear: you cannot rely on tech giants to safeguard your privacy. So, it’s essential to make data protection a priority and take proactive steps to minimize your data footprint. But, what measures can you take?
- Delete your profiles, such as Apple IDs. If this seems a bit far-fetched right now, deactivate as many accounts as possible.
- Be selective with what you share online, in general. Once shared, there’s no turning back.
- Set up a VPN to encrypt data and shield your activities.
- Opt out of data collection, tracking, and sharing options offered by Apple, Google, and Facebook.
- Use separate usernames and passwords for each account. Avoid linking your Gmail address or Facebook profile to accounts outside their platforms.
- Regularly delete browser history and cookies.
The more you interact with these platforms, the more opportunities you create for them to infiltrate your data. Of course, some are now taking steps towards respecting their user’s privacy demands. Apple’s third-party cookie abandonment policies and privacy labels for apps are examples of moving in the right direction. But how far they would go to bolster your data privacy leaves much room for debate.