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Here’s What the Big Tech Companies Know About You

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The novelty of the internet platform boom has mostly worn off.

Now that companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Alphabet are among the world’s most valued companies, people are starting to hold them more accountable for the impact of their actions on the real world.

From the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the transparency of Apple’s supply chain, it’s clear that big tech companies are under higher scrutiny. Unsurprisingly, much of this concern stems around one key currency that tech companies leverage for their own profitability: personal data.

What Big Tech Knows

Today’s infographic comes to us from Security Baron, and it compares and contrasts the data that big tech companies admit to collecting in their privacy policies.

Here

While the list of data collected by big tech is extensive in both length and breadth, it does take two to tango.

For many of these categories, users have to willingly supply their data in order for it to be collected. For example, you don’t have to fill out your relationship status on Facebook, but millions of users choose to do so.

Did I Opt Into This?

The majority of the data categories on the list make sense – it’s a no-brainer that Amazon has your credit card information, or that Google knows what websites you visit. Even the least tech-savvy person would likely understand this.

However, there are definitely some categories of data that get collected and stored that may sound unnerving to some people:

  • Facebook knows your political views, religious views, and even your ethnicity
  • Xbox users will have their skeletal tracking data collected through the Kinect device
  • Facebook also knows your income level, which it finds out through partnerships with personal data brokers
  • Platforms collect your documents, email, and message data – though some of this is just metadata
  • Facebook and Microsoft store facial recognition data, based on the pictures you upload

Remember, this is just what companies admit to collecting in their privacy policies – what else do you think they know?

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Data Visualization

Visualizing Internet Suppression Around the World

Freedom of speech on the internet has been on decline for eight consecutive years. We visualize the death spiral to show who limits speech the most.

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Visualizing Internet Suppression Around the World

View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here

When people think of freedom, they often think it in the physical sense, such as the ability to act and behave in certain ways without fear of punishment, or freedom of movement within one’s country.

When a nation chooses to restrict freedom in the physical world, the results are often hard to ignore. Protests are met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Road checks pop up along transportation routes. Journalists are detained.

In the digital world, creeping control often appears in more subtle ways. Personal data is accessed without us knowing, and swarms of suspiciously like-minded accounts begin to overwhelm meaningful conversations on social media platforms.

The Freedom on the Net Report, by Freedom House, breaks internet suppression down into a number of elements, from content filtering to detention of online publishers. Here’s how a number of countries around the world stack up:

internet freedom by country

According to the report, internet freedom around the world has been falling steadily for eight consecutive years. Today’s graphic is an international look at the state of internet freedom.

First World Problems

At its best, the internet allows us to seek out information and make choices free from coercion or hidden manipulation. Even in countries with relatively open access to information this is becoming increasingly difficult.

In Western countries, internet suppression often rears its head in the form of misinformation and excessive data collection. The Cambridge Analytica scandal was a potent example of how the vast amounts of data collected by platforms and third parties can be used to manipulate public opinion.

The backlash to this data collection by tech companies also produced one of the most promising developments in the past year – the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). While the regulations are not applicable to government and military entities, it does create a pathway to increased transparency and accountability for companies collecting user data.

Control Creep

Around one-third of the people in the world live in countries that are considered “partly free”.

For most users, access to online information may not look too different from the internet experience in Iceland or Estonia, but there are creeping controls in specific areas.

In Turkey, Wikipedia was blocked and social media companies were compelled to censor political commentary. The country had one of the largest declines in internet freedom in recent years.

In Nigeria, data localization requirements have been enacted. This follows the lead of places like China and Vietnam, where servers must be located within the country for “the inspection, storage, and provision of information at the request of competent state management agencies.”

Access Denied

For many people around the world – particularly in Asia – accessing information online is a fundamentally different experience. Content published by an individual can be monitored and censored, and online activity that would be considered benign in Western countries can result in severe real-world consequences such as imprisonment or death.

As today’s data visualization vividly illustrates, China has by far the most restricted internet of the 65 countries covered in the report.

Network operators in the country are obligated to store all user data within the country (which can be accessed by governmental bodies), and are required to immediately stop the transmission of “banned content”. The country is also further cracking down the use of VPNs, which are used to circumvent China’s Great Firewall.

Of course, China is not alone in the desire to implement tight controls over online access. Many places, from Vietnam to Ethiopia, are eager to embrace the “China Model”. The country, which is aggressively ramping up its influence around globe, is more than happy expand its influence through exporting models of governance to new technologies, such as facial recognition.

Meanwhile, in Russia, the popular messaging app, Telegram, was blocked due to its refusal to allow the country’s security service access to encrypted data. This example highlights a growing dilemma faced by tech companies operating internationally – acquiesce to government demands, or lose access to huge markets.

A Tale of Two Internets

Today, there are two prodominant flavors of internet on the menu – the Silicon Valley offering dominated by major tech companies, and the top-down, state-controlled version being spread in earnest by Beijing. It would be a mistake to believe that the former is the clear choice for jurisdictions around the world.

In many countries in Africa, communications infrastructure is still being built out, so assistance from Chinese companies is accepted with open arms.

Our Chinese friends have managed to block such media in their country and replaced them with their homegrown sites that are safe, constructive, and popular.

– Edwin Ngonyani, Tanzania’s Deputy Minister of Works, Transport and Communication

Even though the internet is now three decades old, its form is still evolving. It remains to be seen whether the divergence between free and not free jurisdictions continues to grow.

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Privacy

How to Be Invisible on the Internet

This in-depth infographic provides a practical guide on how anyone can increase privacy on their browser, social media networks, and mobile device.

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Everywhere you look, concerns are mounting about internet privacy.

Although giving up your data was once an afterthought when gaining access to the newest internet services such as Facebook and Uber, many people have had their perspective altered by various recent scandals, billions of dollars of cybertheft, and a growing discomfort around how their personal data may be used in the future.

More people want to opt out of this data collection, but aside from disconnecting entirely or taking ludicrous measures to safeguard information, there aren’t many great options available to limit what is seen and known about you online.

The Next Best Thing

It may not be realistic to use Tor for all online browsing, so why not instead look at taking more practical steps to reducing your internet footprint?

Today’s infographic comes to us from CashNetUSA, and it gives a step-by-step guide – that anyone can follow – to limit the amount of personal data that gets collected on the internet.

How to Be Invisible on the Internet

As you can see, you can take simple steps to limit the amount of personal information you give up online.

To be absolutely clear, these actions will not reduce your footprint to nothing – but they will make many important categories of data invisible for all intents and purposes.

Basic Building Blocks

The simple actions that can be taken fall into three major realms: internet browsers, social networks, and mobile phones.

1. Internet Browsers:
Whether you are using Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer, there are easy things you can do to increase privacy. These include using private browsing, blocking third-party cookies, and tailoring the permissions for websites that you access.

2. Social Media Platforms
Major social networks have options built-in for users seeking privacy – it’s just many people don’t know they are there. On Facebook, for example, you can prevent your name being linked to ads – and on Twitter, you can prevent Twitter from tracking you.

3. Mobile Phones
We live more and more on our smartphones, but thankfully there are options here as well. You can block ad tracking on Safari, or opt out of ad personalization on Android. There is even a simple setting on Android that allows you to encrypt your phone.

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