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Are Facebook and Google Spying on You?

The sheer amount of data the internet contains on consumer behavior is unprecedented. We are at a point in our society where companies are able to predict buying behavior to an incredibly accurate degree. Sometimes even before the consumer knows it.

Some may think it’s fascinating. Other’s creepy.

In 2012, Forbes released a story about how Target was able to figure out that a young girl was pregnant before her father knew. Target took the girl’s purchasing history, compared it to others, and found that there was a pattern between pregnant women and a certain lotion that many purchase. They referred to it as a “pregnancy predictor.” Needless to say, the father was appalled when Target began sending coupons for baby clothes and cribs.

So are consumers are giving too much personal information to big companies?

It seems like when you mention a product to someone, you immediately see an ad for it on your Facebook news feed.

Could media giants like Google and Facebook be spying on us? Not likely.

It’s Impossible

Thinking that companies are listening to your conversations is pretty bold. Let’s take Facebook for instance; if they truly were listening they would have to record everything you said. Recording creates data, and data takes up space. According to Wired, there are 150 million active users on Facebook and they estimate that even if people had their phone on for half the day, it would rack up about 130 MB’s per person to record each day.

This equates to roughly 20 petabytes a day! Facebook has only about 300 petabytes of data storage and only takes in about 600 terabytes of data a day. There is absolutely no way that Facebook is actively recording you. So breathe easy, no one is recording your conversations.

Tracking is Different than Spying

There is a fine line between companies tracking your purchasing patterns and actually spying on you. Though it may be shocking to find how accurately retailers can predict what you want to buy next, it doesn’t mean they’re actually infringing on your personal privacy.

Retailers have been tracking customer behavior well before the internet. Every time you sign up for a loyalty program or purchase through a companies’ website, you are inadvertently giving them permission to record your purchase history. Though your individual purchases may seem insignificant, by comparing this with every other one of their customers, companies’ can begin to make predictions. This is the beauty of big data. The only reason you haven’t noticed this trend until recently is that retailers finally have the processing capability to sift through mass quantities of data.

Is it kind of creepy? Yes.

Is it wrong? No. You’ve given them permission.

How do I stop being tracked?

Just because it’s not unethical, doesn’t mean that people want to be tracked. In an age where information is in abundance, how do we keep large companies from tracking what we purchase or what we do?

First, turn off your location services. No matter which phone you use, if an app asks you to turn on your location services, ignore it. Don’t give it permission.

Second, delete your cookies. Internet cookies may seem delicious, but they are the primary means of recording what you browse on the internet. Go to your internet settings and either delete your cookie cache or turn off cookies for good.

Finally, become more cautious when signing up for websites and more aware when giving your personal information online. If you don’t share information about yourself, then the internet will know nothing about you.

While most marketers would never dream of using your information maliciously, that doesn’t mean they don’t pose a threat. If the risks seem to outweigh the benefits of seeing unwanted ads all day, you have the power to prevent yourself from being found. It just takes a little more digital awareness.

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