Beware: The internet is tracking your every click
Were you talking about a bag to your close friend on a private chat and the next time you opened a browser it was filled with pictures of prospective options of bags for you to buy? Most people tend to get spooked out by alarmingly accurate suggestions they get online, but a closer look will reveal that there is a method to the marketing measures and that you might actually have given permission for information to be collected on your consumer requirements.
When ads seem a tad too tailor-madeRead more ↓
On one occasion, student Sindhura Karthikeyan was looking up things in the colour yellow, and minutes later, ads on all social media platforms were about products in that colour. “It was really freaky. I only googled the colour and immediately after, I was bombarded with ads for dresses and other items in shades of yellow, and this instance is only one of many,” shares Sindhura. Data scientist Yashu Gupta explains how this data is collected. “Most android phones are connected with Google and anything that you enter on your the search engine gets collected as data. Based on the links you click on online, it collects a corpus of data that reflects your consumer behaviour to provide ads that are curated for you. Say you message someone on Whatsapp about a certain outfit you wish to buy and then log in to Facebook, you get an ad for the same on your timeline. Facebook and Whatsapp are owned by the same company and, hence, has access to data on these platforms. It is something you give permission to when you download the app,” explains Yashu. The information is sold to prospective buyers too, leading to specific ads popping up when you are browsing. “You might have also clicked on an ad the first time you open an app and that gets recorded for your consumer data base,” adds Yashu.
Do you know what permissions you are giving?
Any app asks for your permission when you download it, be it for access to your contacts, gallery or voice notes. The data thus collected is shared with relevant buyers to collate ads targetted personally for you. “The people who are unaware of this might tend to get freaked out and often uninstall an app. But one can choose to, say, turn off a certain permission or even access the data collected, but not many people know how to do so,” explains Yashu. Does everyone read the terms and conditions? “I personally don’t read the entire document, because it usually goes on for pages, but I do make a note of what an app is asking permission for. If an app has no connection with photos and is asking for access to my photo gallery, I avoid downloading it,” says Sindhura.
Improved customer service vs borderline creepy?
Many people are wary of the impact of targetted ads and the common consensus ranges from it being perceived as improved customer service to borderline creepy. “Personally, I don’t mind the ads I get, as it is online with the products I am looking for. It is better than getting ads that make no sense to me,” says Yashu. Sindhura, who on the other hand, believes that how personal data is used is not justified. “Once, I was watching a video online and because someone in the clip said ‘Okay Google’, my Google assistant popped up — it was really creepy. It is like someone is constantly keeping a track of me and even knows what I am thinking,” says Sindhura.
The older generation’s affinity to the internet
Not just Gen Now, but the older generation is also experimenting with their phones. It is common to see them scrolling for content and exploring the internet. They are more likely to be victims of click bait than the younger folk, and need to be made aware of the repercussions of their actions,” says Shipra Nayak (name changed), whose 70-year-old mother falls prey to click bait in the process of checking social media notifications and catching up on her favourite shows. Regardless of your age, the next time you click on an ad or download something, be conscious of what you are granting access to and look up the data collected on you, for the seemingly random, yet accurate ads might prove to be just what you made accessible. Remember, the net was able to eavesdrop on you, because you allowed it to listen.
Read twice before you click
- Ads are often specially curated for you based on the behaviour you exhibit as an internet user.
- Be aware of what you are giving different apps access to — data is collected based on the permissions you give out.
- Read the terms and conditions to understand the agreement you are getting into for an app.
- You can check the data that has been collected on you in some apps — Facebook, for instance, offers that option, in case you want to take a look at it.
- Uninstalling an app might not be the solution — going through the access that you have granted will help you understand an ‘eavesdropping’ situation better.