The scary digital world

The horror

Some years ago, my husband and I were looking for houses to rent. We both were in different cities and were having a telephone conversation. We had three or four phone calls to discuss this. After that, I opened my laptop and turned on my then browser, Google. Advertisements started popping up. Showing the adds of houses for rent at the very same location, the same budget I was looking for. A chill went down my bone. How did this particular website knows that we are looking for a house?

The internet

The internet was designed to give a home to the mind. It is the place for genuine independence and liberty. To create a new global social space exclusive of any authority, Government, sovereignty, and the “weary giants of flesh and steel,” the industrial area. Anonymity was there in the very ethos of the internet. It offered the opportunity to the users not to be discriminated against on religious, economic, and/or social background. It provided the platform to people to be themselves. And the Right to Privacy lies in the very core to the self-being of people. It was our chance to leave the world's nastiness, selfishness, and be an open and equal world. It was our chance to be better.

The last decade has seen a surge in the usage of the internet. The growth can most prominently be observed in the area of social media. The smartphones, smartwatch, every other smart device aided to that. There is a substantive number of people for whom using the internet is similar to using Facebook. There is a parallel universe built around Facebook and What's app. And every day, each second it is growing. According to the survey made by Facebook adds 500,000 new users every day, six new profiles every second.

This Mammuthus growth of social media and our dependency on/over
the internet has blurred the line of individual privacy. What considered to be private once is now in the public domain. Be it our first date, our breakups, dinner plans, childbirth list goes on. This does not end here. Our behavior is also under watch.

Different types of Online activities

We give reactions to different situations, people, promote, support, reject issues on social media. We have conversations about what food we like to eat, where do we want to go shopping, or when we are getting married. It is the information-sharing aspect of the internet. The other principal usage of the internet is gaining knowledge. We browse to ask random things. Like - What is the total area of earth? What is global warming? What is the best brand of lingerie suitable for thin women?
Where in the first set of information (the activity on social media), we are sharing with our full consent and knowledge. For the second of information which we presume it to be private, between us, the browser and the website we are getting information from. But in reality, it is not.

Tracking and it’s kind

First party tracking

There are certain rights we waive, the information we give to avail a service over the internet. Like the name, contact details for Facebook, Instagram. Signing up for Instagram means voluntarily agreeing to their “Terms, Data Policy, and Cookies Policy.” It is precisely like an agreement in the real world — the primary distinction between the two lies in our approach. In case of an actual world agreement, we make sure we read it. But do rarely care about understanding what we are signing for a while signing something in the digital world. Here what we only care about is the service and nothing else. Signing up for the service then means letting the service provider (in this case, Instagram) insert cookies in our browser, get data from us. Also, these services, Facebook knows who our friends are? And what we “like” and how much?
Similarly, Amazon, Flipkart know - What we want to buy? When are we buying? This is called First Party Tracking, of which we are fully aware of and have agreed to.

Third-party tracking

There is another kind of Tracking. It happens behind our back, without our knowledge and consent, Third Party Tracking. These third-party trackers are there in almost all mobile apps, web pages, everywhere we go in online. Any regular mobile app collects and shares our private data, as sensitive as call records and location data with at least dozens third party companies. By third party company, we mean some other company than the service provider (in this case, the company making the mobile application). An average web page does the same thing to the user. The Physical world is also not spared by these trackers. Whenever we connect into the WiFi network into some coffee shop, hotel, restaurant, the service provider ( the coffee shop) can monitor our activity online. Also, they (coffee shop, hotel) use Bluetooth and WiFi beacons for passive monitoring of people in that locality.

Who performs these third party tracking?

The data brokers, advertisers, and tech companies are the ones who are tracking us behind our backs. A research paper published by EFF describes the situation aptly “ Corporations have built a hall of one-way mirrors: from the inside, you can see only apps, web pages, ads, and yourself reflected by social media. But in the shadows behind the glass, trackers quietly take notes on nearly everything you do. These trackers are not omniscient, but they are widespread and indiscriminate.” To know about the deep]down technical part of t)hird party tracking, go through the paper published by EFF. The data the trackers collect may be benign, but together with the public information, they tend to reveal a lot. Like if someone is political or not, ambitious or not, if you like to safe or prone to take risks. We, our lives, are being sold, and we are nothing but an accumulation of data for them.

Therefore with us feeding information and the third party tracking together subjects us to constant surveillance. Our profiles are being created based on these data. This profile makes

There is an invisible but unavoidable panopticon around us — a nearly unbreakable chain.

Why would someone want to track me? I have nothing to hide.

This is the general response we get when we initiate the discussion of and about privacy. To which Glen Greenworld has a great reply, ‘if you do not have to hide anything, please write down all your email ids, not just the work ones, the respectable ones but all, along with the passwords to me.’ Though people have nothing to hide no one has ever got back to him :)

Everyone needs privacy. We flourish our being and can be true to ourselves when we do not have the fear and knowledge of being watched by someone. Everyone cares about privacy. If they did not have, there would be no password on their accounts, no locker, no keys.

The evolution of physical self to digital self and protecting that

Now with us entering into the digital world, we are being measured by bits of data. Our data is an extension of our Physical being. The information forms a core part of a person. We are familiar with the norms of the Physical world. But the digital world is still a maze, where we are trying to find a way to safety, success, and survival. From this very blog post, I am starting a new series on saving ourselves in the digital world. This series is meant for beginners and newbies. In the coming posts, I will be dealing with

  • the threats of the digital world,
  • how to be safe in here?
  • What does the law say about it? and other relevant topics

Till we meet the next time, stay safe.

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