What does your online information say about you? Does it just say your name and email address, or does it go much deeper?
When you download a new a pplication to your smartphone, do you sign up with an email address and unique password, or do you opt for the 'Sign in with Facebook' or 'Sign in with Google' option? Most people choose to login with either Facebook or Google to which they already have an account.. If we start combining the datapoints we give these companies, along with other corporations that have been known to acquire such information, it will most likely build quite the dossier on us. If we start breaking down what we allow these applications to store, we can realize how our entire identity can basically be summed up in our smartphone.
This might have already crossed your mind, which is good, but after a recent discovery, I started rethinking everything.
In September of 2019, BuzzFeed News reported that period-tracking applications MIA Fem and Maya "sent women's use of contraception, the timings of their monthly periods, symptoms like swelling and cramps, and more directly to Facebook." This information is then used for many different reasons, one of which being using targeted advertisements based on the information you've entered into these apps. Possibly more disturbing than targeted advertisements is the fact that Facebook knows these extremely personal, intimate, and none-of-their-business datapoints about you.
Now let's dig into an app like Maya, a period-tracking app used by more than 8 million women that’s designed for the monitor of many different, personal factors. It will automatically predict your fertility, allow you to manually enter your cycle and flow length, the ability to log your love, weight, and temperature, logging symptoms and moods, cravings, etc. This company was selling its app data to Facebook. They SOLD YOUR LOVE! Okay, maybe not your actual love, but they sold the log of your love life. This includes, but is not limited to the amount of sexual activity in which you're involved, was the sex protected or not, the date and time, even a new or current partner. I've seen many companies invade personal privacy before, but this has to be one of the most disturbing cases I have ever come across. It was sharing information that allow targeted advertisements. These ads may have been for the food you said you were craving, NSAIDs or Tylenol if you claimed to be having pain, and unfortunately, the list goes on and on. This issue, though, is two-fold. Not only is it horrendous for a company to share this information, but also, this is information we probably shouldn’t be sharing to any app or smartphone. In Apple’s most recent operating system, iOS 13, they allow for “Cycle Tracking.” Sharing personal information can build a portfolio of datapoints on you that can tells your story.
I'll give you an example, by using myself: my iPhone screen is quite organized. I keep only one complete page of apps, with all of them sectioned off into their own folder based on their "genre." Excluding the iOS apps developed by Apple-proper, I'll start with the Goliath of YouTube. I don't think there is much I need to explain. It is now part of Google. Datapoint 1 - Your viewing preferences (what you like or dislike, suggested videos that you've clicked on, etc, etc). The next application is ESPN. Now this app might seem harmless and not prone to saying much about you, but here we go: Datapoint 2 - what teams I like. This could elude to where I live (I've "Favorited" the Portland Trailblazers, Oregon State Beavers, Seattle Mariners). This shows I'm likely from the Pacific Northwest. I'm also a fan of the Toronto Raptors, Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Vancouver Canucks (go figure, I'm part Canadian). Now you have an idea where I live, or where I'm from, maybe both. You also can guess my heritage, as well as you know my viewing preferences, which for me is stand-up comedy, programming videos/tutorials, R&B music videos. Now you know that you can maybe ping me with Ticketmaster tickets to a comedy show, a new programming book or piece of software, a new album from Alicia Keys. I imagine you can see where I'm going with these two, seemingly innocent apps.
Headspace - Meditation
Sober Grid - Sobriety & Accountability
Lifesum - Health & Dieting
Tinder - Dating
Mint - Finance & Budgeting
Orgasm Tracker - Intimacy
Grindr - Social Networking for LGBTQ Community
With the release of Apple’s iOS 13 and watchOS 6 came an additon to their HealthKit, Cycle Tracker, yet another app to keep track of a woman’s menstrual cycle. While many people and researchers have claimed that this is a major breakthrough, I am slightly more hesitant to think that this is the smartest idea. We have provided our cellular carriers so much information and digital latitude, that we truly are selling our freedom and allowing our rights to be exploited. The First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments to the constitution all have to do with our privacy, along with the Privacy Act of 1974, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Whether it be our privacy of beliefs or privacy against unreasonable searches, much of what this country is built upon is the ability to live our own lives freely.
My last exmaple will hopefully drive this point home. I heard of this Facebook “feature” in which you can navigate to your own page, and it will guess your political views based on your online activity. I must admit that I am surprised Facebook is being this transparent with their ability to track everything we do and collect datapoints, so seeing as I haven’t had a Facebook in a year, I asked my spouse if they would give this a shot. I had them log on to Facebook in the browser, and they navigated to Settings –> Ads –> Your Information –> Your Categories –> and looked at the category of US Politics. It showed what Facebook thought was their political beliefs, and it was spot-on. It is possible to do this from your mobile device as well, using a similar sequence of Settings. This shows how much information Facebook gathers on you - enough that it can guess your political ideology and be accurate.
When choosing what applications you download to your smartphone, just remember that most everything you provide those apps can be sold to another company.