Most of us likely have that nagging feeling that all the entertainment and convenience that we get online and take for granted must be paid for somehow. We know that companies like Facebook and Google collect our data, and it gets used to target us better for advertising. So what? I can just ignore the ads anyway, can’t I? I have nothing to hide!
But it goes deeper than that. Much deeper. The Cambridge Analytica Scandal may prove to be the catalyst, the event that finally wakes us up to the ways that we can be manipulated, duped and held to ransom for the sheer amount of data that is held about us. This scandal has opened the door for a wider discussion about data collection and its often nefarious uses, and it is leading many people to confront some uncomfortable truths.
Irish IT expert Dylan Curran started a Twitter thread recently, which has since gone viral, in which he exposed the extent of Facebook and Google’s Data archives on him. “The Facebook archive was 600mb, roughly 400,000 Word documents,” he wrote in New Statesman. “The Google archive was 5.5gb, roughly 3m Word documents.”
That is a shitload of data. Facebook’s dump includes all of your sent and received messages, login locations, and even non-Facebook-related text messages and phone call history. Facebook are the “drug addicts of data, squeezing every last drop from the needle before they move on to the next one,” Curran said.
Google appears to go even further. They keep track of everything, even searches and emails that you have deleted. In fact they almost certainly know more about you then you do yourself.
This data builds a complete picture of us, and can be used against us in countless ways. While you may think you have nothing to hide, do you really want somebody reading your messages and emails? Looking at your photos and videos? Knowing exactly where you were at specific times? Imagine one day you are running for office, or you have a jealous ex. Perhaps you know a little too much about shadowy government operations and they want to blackmail you. With this data, they can. And we have willingly offered up all this about ourselves, in exchange for the convenience and fun these services can provide.
Edward Snowden called it “an exquisite breakdown using real-life examples of how @Facebook and @Google exploited your trust to quietly create a decade-long dossier of your most private activities. With a bonus: how to download a copy of your own.”
So yes, these things that are ostensibly provided for ‘free’ are, of course, not free at all. We all knew this before, but now we know exactly the price that we are paying. Are they worth it? You be the judge.