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Every time you visit websites like Facebook or Google, you leave little bread crumbs behind. These crumbs act as little bits of information that can tell a lot of information about you.
Given enough time, the right person could find out a lot about who you are. These crumbs of information are not only left behind when you access the Internet, though.
They are constantly falling out of your pocket from a device we are all very well acquainted with: your cell phone, which serves as a window into your personal life, a part of us that most cannot let go. These crumbs of information are called Metadata.
Whenever we interact over the Internet or communicate over text or call, we leave behind this Metadata. Our activities over modern infrastructure can leave behind more than just food preferences though. It can leave signs of where your location was at the time, when you choose to open social media and even the details (email, phone numbers, etc.) of the parties involved.
Even though collecting this data does not tell exactly what you may have been communicating, it still violates your privacy because of how much those who care can tell about you. Companies and websites collect these bits of information from you on a constant basis. These companies are called data brokers.
Even though individually these bits of information may seem meaningless, these companies can take this data and compile massive amounts of it to be able to tell things about you ranging from what foods you like and your shopping habits to even your psychological health and sexual orientation.
You have your own personal profile of your information and habits that others are compiling of you filed away. Your own online stalker! Why would companies and websites do this?
The answer is simple: to make money. Companies sell this information to others who could make use out of the information provided.
Think about Amazon. You are browsing through things you might want to buy. A few days later while you are on Facebook, you notice they are constantly running ads on the sides trying to get you to buy similar items. They use this information to market things to you.
Whether it is a product or a political view, a user’s market experience is carefully tailored just to them to maximize profits. They profit off of you without you ever knowing it by selling your personal information.
It would not be surprising if this is the first time you have heard of Metadata and its details, and companies that profit off of things like this would prefer it that way. The less you know, the better for them.
So how can you view this data and protect yourself from the harvesting of your private information? You cannot. That is it. Only in a few places, like Great Britain, can a person request to access their Metadata.
One individual did this to Tinder in the UK, and within a few weeks received a manuscript of all the interactions through Tinder she ever had. This data included when she would use Tinder and how often she matched with guys, how often she messaged first and her general preference on men’s appearance.
As of right now in the US, there is not much in the way of a legal push for us to be able to view such data, but in the future as this becomes a larger issue, it may become possible.
To learn more on Metadata visit: privacyinternational.org.