Yes, you’re being watched. No, it’s not a violation.

Data Privacy has been a concern for a very long time. With the row over Facebook-Cambridge analytica controversy, everyone has started talking about Data Privacy. And, many of us are not aware what’s exactly happening on the other end whenever we use an Application.

Yes, software companies track your journey within their apps/services and that’s not a violation. The problem arises when your personal data is breached/compromised/stolen.

Let me explain in detail.

Right from the post which you’re reading now to the last pizza you ordered in a food delivery app, every single action of yours is being logged on a server. This is an era of big data analytics. The insights delivered by the data harvested through the customer’s usage is precious for the future growth of any company.

With advanced technologies, it’s quite fast and easy to guess your next action based on your past usage. Further, subtle notifications from the apps are not sent to you randomly. It’s a targeted one. The intent of these notifications is to make you perform a specific action.

I’ll illustrate this with few practical examples from prominent companies.

  1. Amazon

A few weeks back, I spent some time searching for biography books on Amazon. I opened and read the synopsis of few books, checked the reviews, and did everything that an ideal online shopper would do. I ended up buying nothing. Within a day, I received this email.

Check out the content which I’ve highlighted. I remember reading the summaries of the books listed below. From this, it’s obvious that my journey throughout the biography section was tracked by Amazon. Let’s jump to the next one.

On Thursday, March 29, 2018, I was searching for thriller novels. Since my mom is a huge fan of “The Bourne” series, I checked this particular book’s price and stayed on that page for quite some time. I did not buy this book.

I received the below email on March 30.

Note that, they’ve added some importance to the price. This is another instance that reveals the fact that you’re browsing history is being tracked.

2. Twitter

Twitter sends updates on “What’s happening” in my locality. From this, it’s implicit that these updates are being sent to my mailbox from my past activities through location tracking.

3. Pinterest

By now, you’d have guessed why I received this email. Prior to receiving this, I was searching some pins using the keyword “Flat Illustration.” It’s evident that my search history was stored and an appropriate mail was triggered to me.

If you’re using a mobile app, you might receive periodic push notifications from these services.

How are these notifications triggered?

Complex workflows and algorithms help companies automate this process. They are highly scalable and fast. As time passes, advanced strategies are followed to convert a prospect. Contextual messages at the right time would make a user perform a particular action. Now arises the important question!

How are the notification’s content and time decided?

Data. Data. Data…

As I had already told, the information reaped from the data harvested, allow the organizations to come up with data-driven strategies. When the strategies are aligned with the user’s journey- Eureka!

What are the other reasons for which my data is being used?

Advertisements. Does it ring a bell?

Consider Facebook. You like, share, and comment on various posts in your feed. You also update your interests in your profile along with your age, gender, location, etc.

Now assume there’s a Digital Imaging company named ABC and I’m going to run an advertisement campaign. I’d do the following:

  1. I’ll prepare my ad creative according to the regulations of Facebook.
  2. I’ll import my creative in my Ad console and add the text which is to be displayed.
  3. I’ll start adding the criteria:
    Age: 25–32
    Location: Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
    Gender: Both Men and Women
    Interests: Photography, Cameras, Photography gears, Photography Accessories, DSLR, and so on…
  4. I’ll add the budget and duration for my promotion.
  5. I‘ll then start the promotion

Now, Facebook will identify my target audience using the criteria that I had set and will start displaying my Ad. Whenever a person engages (likes/comments/shares) with my ad, an amount will be deducted from my budget. The promotion will run until my budget is exhausted. At the end of the campaign, I’ll be presented with the post promotion analytics.

Note that Facebook won’t let me know the profile details of the users who’ve engaged with my Advertisement. To sum up, Facebook uses your data to earn money.

And that’s how most of the Online Advertisement work. That’s the power of data analytics today.

Do I sign up for this when I start using an application?

Yes, you check the I Agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Tracking your usage data ain’t a problem. But, when your personal data and your internet journey is exposed to a third-party without your consent, there begins the problem.

We can also take steps to reduce the amount of personal data we share on the internet. It’s always safe to read and understand a company’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

Originally posted by me on Medium.

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