You have probably heard of a scandal with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica that is all over the news. 50 million Facebook profiles data taken and used for elections. Sounds terrifying? I don’t think so.
Let me explain you why is that “normal” today and how and why everybody does that. A short introduction into what happened between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.
Facebook had — and still provides an API for accessing user’s data with user’s permission. Every time you log in to some website with Facebook you are being asked if you are granting access to the third party app to your Facebook’s data such as name and email (most of the time, except if a third party app asks for an additional data). A few years ago there was less security and fewer permissions to ask for before getting data so it was much easier to get it.
Somebody has built a quiz app which people massively used and gave access to fetch profile info. Later, he sold fetched data without permission to Cambridge Analytica — which they used for a Trump campaign — at least those are claims.
What they could have done with that data?
By analyzing data they had they could have predicted personal profiles of people, see their interests and get some conclusions. For example: if some state had less Trump voters they could have invested more into marketing for that state so they gain more voters.
The scary part
If they had only user’s info and profile data — how they could know so much about those people and how that data may have helped for a political campaign? What could they do if they had more data?
The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.
In 2018, today’s reality everybody has access to a bunch of your data and they know a lot about you. Data is a very valuable asset if it’s analyzed properly.
Facebook is the not only site that collects data about you, there are many other such as Google, YouTube, Microsoft, Snapchat and many smaller companies. Almost every site has tracking tools to gather data they need, such as your IP, country, city, demographics, a previously visited site, your age etc.
Google Analytics is a popular tool that helps website owners see information about their’s visitors. Every visitor to any site has it’s own “digital fingerprint”. There are tools and techniques to follow every visitor on any website or mobile application anonymously but get their profile, interests etc.
For example: I can see that 5.16% of my website visitors are Value Shoppers and they have bought something on the Internet in the past. 5.04% are interested in technology, and the list goes on.
Since many sites use Google Analytics for collecting stats, they also help “track” user all over the internet — so it’s also easier to create a more precise profile of the user.
How do they know that much about me?
Data mining. All your actions on the web are being saved. If you follow many traveling blogs on Instagram — you will be marked as interested in traveling. Did you search car parts last night on eBay for BMW M5? You may see in following days more ads on the internet about BMW M5 parts — if you click them often it will be assumed that you own a BMW M5.
You may not want to search for a tutorial how to assemble C4 bomb because FBI may knock on your doors.
How much Google know about me?
Dylan Curran posted on Twitter to show people how much Google knows about them. You can see all Google knows about you, but when you see it becomes scary. They collect locations you visited, your interests, the most used stickers and more.
Is this legal?
Image source: ReactionGifs.me
Websites and businesses must respect your privacy and they can’t gather data about you without agreement or acknowledgment.
All data is being (mostly) anonymized and info such as your name and email is not being saved or used for tracking. You have your own digital fingerprint which marks you — and that is your behavior history. There is no worry about having someone knocking your door because he targeted you via a Facebook ad.
It was designed to protect online privacy, by making consumers aware of how information about them is collected and used online, and give them a choice to allow it or not.
Global Data Protection Regulation is being introduced by EU to protect your data. Websites should not collect data they don’t need and you can ask them at any moment to delete all data they have about you. Google introduced its option to be forgotten and you can ask Google to remove results about you.
You may ask yourself what is the point of this post, except spreading conspiracies that they will take over the world with information that you watch cats at work and you like Japanese culture. Facebook has over 1 billion users. Imagine how much data they have. Those are not gigabytes, those are farms of servers.
One of Facebook’s datacenters
No human will read that data ever. Not in Facebook, Google or any other company. Developers build systems that save and use that data, but they don’t have access to it. I’ve worked on such projects as a developer many times so far and I never had access to actual data. Companies mostly are trying to ensure and prevent data leaks — at the end, it may be expensive for them (just look what happened with Facebook’s shares).
Marketing, data, and ads.
Most of the collected data will be used for marketing. Facebook’s main part of a business is selling you. All your likes, interests, friends, photos and traveling check-ins say a lot about you — they know more about you than you know about yourself.
Facebook serves ads based on your interests. Advertizes who use Facebook for marketing have powerful tools to decide who is going to an ad. A bright side of it is that you see ads that are in your area of interests. If you don’t like cars you probably won’t see a boring ad about cars. Facebook marketing has progressed through the time and offers many options.
What’s in it for me?
Let’s presume that you have a business idea, a product or you are just person interested in marketing and digital media. You know your audience and targeted people, but you don’t know how to reach them. If you know people’s interests you can target them using that. You will save yourself big amounts of money by targeting people who will be interested in your ad, instead of spending money on showing an ad to people who don’t care.
How to target people interested in your topic and how to test what brings you the biggest return on your investment is actually very complex process and takes time to master by yourself. My suggestion is to start learning with facebook ads course.
Until I needed to use Facebook ads I didn’t even know how powerful it is. It allows me to serve ads to my targeted audience. Besides collecting data user enters they also aggregate data they have and create some minor predictions for you. Read the full list here.
Here are few samples:
Facebook knows when is your anniversary.
Yeah — you want to see an ad for birthday presents for your friend Mike who has a birthday soon, you don’t want to forget to buy him a present.
You don’t want to show a Facebook ad about guns to Liberals.
Dear Facebook, please don’t show my facebook ad to people using Internet Explorer so I don’t have to spend weeks optimizing my site for them.
Google offers a similar experience in serving ads. This is a powerful marketing tool for advertisers — and gives a better experience to people by showing them only topics they are interested in.
To find out more how powerful tool for marketing it is to learn Facebook ads.
Business intelligence is teams of people in a niche in business and development that creates strategies and analyzes data samples to decide how it is going to be used. This is an industry that grows rapidly and takes a place on the market. They create strategies such as if you own an Alfa Romeo to serve you ads with Alfa Romeo parts. It takes both understanding of business needs and development capabilities to develop such systems. Learning business development takes time, but at the end, it is worth when you learn how to read your data, how to use it and what to collect for more precise information.
Predicting user’s behavior is being a step ahead of your competitor. Machine learning is a process of feeding computer algorithms to understand more about some topic. If you feed an algorithm for image recognition with 1 million pics of cats — it will be able to recognize a cat on any image.
By knowing a fact that one person is looking to rent an apartment in London and searching for jobs in London you can predict it’s likely to move to London. To ensure that fact you encounter more data about that person.
If person likes sunny beaches (born on Malta, shares only sunny pictures on Facebook), has very low income (bought and searched only for very cheap items on Amazon) and poor job background (his LinkedIn says he wasn’t employed for last 5 years) and doesn’t speak English very well (can be seen from comments on Facebook and YouTube) — odds may not have been in his favour and he may be marked as not likely to move to London.
If you got intrigued by Machine Learning and what can be done with it start a machine learning course today.
Facebook, Google, and many others know a lot about you and you can’t do much about it. You shouldn’t worry about it as long as you don’t do anything illegal because there is no harm to you — and the only way to remove your data is not to use the internet.