11:00 ET, 24 January 2014
Privacy violation: NSA is not the only eavesdropper
The hue and cry over the actions of NSA is making the headlines regularly these days, with even the international leaders giving America a piece of their mind for what is being described as an outrageous breach of privacy. The ongoing commotion hardly comes as a surprise, since the actions of NSA have left the people feeling violated and insecure. Intriguingly, private companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple have been doing something along the same lines, though with little to no reaction.
Exploitation of the gray areas by private companies
There is no denying the fact that as opposed to NSA, the private companies do give theirs users a heads-up beforehand in the shape of a legal terms and conditions of use. However, to think that the latter give their informed consent to the use or misuse of their information for revenue purposes and scanning of their personal data would be a rather fallacious assumption.
Private companies have been scanning user information and emails to create user profiles and targeted advertisements for years now. You may have noticed the relevance of ads display on Facebook to your interests, but have you ever wondered why or how? Private companies, especially ones that offer free services, generally try to create revenue by selling you products. They attempt to raise the probability of a successful sale by using the information of the user to isolate the products that may be of interest to them. Furthermore, the companies have also been accused of giving government agencies such as the NSA access to the data bases that they have created.
Interestingly, the information used by such companies is neither bought nor stolen, but is in fact acquired from users themselves, either through the registration process or some survey. They also commonly track cookies to learn more about the users’ interest through their browsing history, something that the latter are either kept unaware of, or not given an option to disable.
Understanding the lack of reaction
The contrasting reactions of the world to the activities of NSA and private companies can be attributed to three factors, namely ignorance, unawareness and carelessness.
Ignorance may be bliss, but it is also a huge risk, especially for Internet users. The cyber age has been around for decades, but there are still people who are not fully aware of how it functions. For them, the idea of private companies such as Facebook spying on their every move on the Internet and building a comprehensive profile is nothing more than paranoia. Since they refuse to accept the behind-the-scene activities of private companies, they neither condemn nor avoid the latter.
Unawareness is another reason why the likes of Google, Facebook and Apple are getting away with snooping and data mining. Despite going through the legal terms and condition of use that the private companies display, users fail to fully comprehend the privacy policies and their implications. It may be either because they are in a hurry to read through the legal document, or simply because they struggle with the legal language that has been used. In some cases, the user does a good job of going through the legal terms and conditions of use document thoroughly and making an effort to understand every bit of it, but once and if there is a change in privacy policies, they either don’t give it enough attention, or fail to even notice them. As a result, they continue to feel that their information is in safe hands and is not being used for any purpose other than the ones they are already aware of.
The third possible reason for a lack of reaction to the practice of data mining by private companies is that some people do not bother to go through the legal terms and conditions of user before signing up for a service. For them, going through such a long document is nothing but a waste of time, even if it concerns their privacy. Such an attitude can be best described as carelessness.
As mentioned before, the world is not 100 percent okay with the shady activities of private companies. However, there just hasn’t been enough noise from the public or government to discourage such activities. NSA has ended up becoming a focal point of privacy and security debate around the globe, while the threat by other perpetrators is being ignored to a large extent.
By: Jessica Carol
Jessica is a tech writer, working at Mobistealth since 2009. She has hands on experience in writing about Android and iPhone spy software. She also has keen interest in various tech related topics, which she has frequently written about.