Have you ever had a sneaking suspicion that your phone is eavesdropping on you?
Perhaps you were talking about a holiday you want to take, or a pair of jeans you’ve been looking at buying, only to receive oddly specific advertisements for the rest of the week.
Sure, sometimes it can be useful. The product you’ve been considering buying is now right at your fingertips, following you around digitally and teasing you to purchase it. Aside from the fact it’s mildly psychologically manipulative, it can be very convenient.
However, most of us have had that disconcerting feeling that our privacy was being invaded. And that our phones, instead of sitting idly in our pockets like they’re supposed to, are perhaps the stealthiest spies to ever exist.
In fact, if you actually take the time to read your mobile’s user agreements, you’ll find that your suspicions aren’t completely unfounded.
Most modern smartphones are equipped with AI assistants that are responsive to voice commands like ‘Hey Siri’ and ‘OK Google’. And unless you disable those functions, the reality is that they’ll always be switched on, waiting with bated breath for you to mention a product like a seagull waits for you to drop a hot chip.
If you have the right permissions enabled, third party apps like Instagram and Facebook can then take that information and target you with a level of nuance that was never before possible.
Although Facebook and other applications deny exploiting the microphone feature, cyber security consultant Dr Peter Henway believes otherwise:
‘Whether it’s timing or location-based or usage of certain functions, [apps] are certainly pulling those microphone permissions and using those periodically.’
However when it comes to your privacy, the sneaky marketing techniques used by media conglomerates are the least of your worries.
As we’ve learned recently, the most powerful spy you need to watch out for is the government.
Aussie government taking notes from the Chinese
According to an article recently published by the ABC, both the Labor and Liberal parties, the Greens, and lobby groups like GetUp and Advance Australia had tracking devices in the campaign emails they sent out to the public.
The tracker is in the form of a tiny pixel image, which upon opening the email is downloaded and has the potential to compile an array of details about the recipient.
According to data law expert David Vaile, in the past emailing was a relatively safe system that ‘wasn’t crawling with surveillance and tracking tools’. And tracking devices remained confined to the real of online marketers and news organisations. But for this federal election, the government is stepping up its game.
The tracking pixels allow the sender to see if you’ve opened the email, and what links you’ve clicked on. And as such, they’re able to discern what marketing techniques are effective on you personally.
As James McDonald, head of digital marketing firm Audience Group explains, the intention behind this technique is to create more nuanced political campaign strategies:
‘If you’ve got your base divided by swinging voter, by issue, by seat or by polling booth, all of a sudden, if you analyse that correctly, you’ve got talking points for the local member when he turns up at the bowls club, which will be different from when you go to the shopping centre.’
This extra data could be the difference between an election victory and loss. But that’s not the government’s only method of gathering data on the public…
Let’s say, for example, you’re an undecided voter who wants to make an informed decision with the federal election coming up later this month.
With all of the propaganda coming from all sides, and innumerable policies to consider, most people find it hard to garner to motivation and time to sort through all the information. As an undecided voter myself, I can attest to that.
Which is why services like the ABC’s Vote Compass are so popular. Essentially, through a series of 30 questions which discern your opinion on topics ranging from refugees to economic policy, the compass places you on a political scale and suggests which party would best align with your views.
At time of writing, Vote Compass has 861,392 responses — belying how popular the service is. However as Sam wrote in Money Morning earlier this week, the compass may have a more sinister agenda:
‘After all this the survey asks about your voting preferences, who you voted for previously, your gender, year of birth, if you’ve been a student, your occupation, religion, language, whether you’re Australian or not, your cultural background, how many people live in your house, your income, if you’re politically left or right, and a few more very detailed personal questions.’
The compass now has almost one million responses, which all potentially contain information that was completely irrelevant to the original service being offered. And considering the ABC is government-owned, who knows what that information, along with your IP address and your email data, could be used for…
Of course, the election process is just one example of an area that is becoming increasingly more data-driven year after year. The sheer mass of data floating around the interwebs (2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced every single day to be exact) is only going to keep growing to numbers which exceed human comprehension.
This absolutely has implications for privacy. But a more pressing issue is bandwidth and internet speed. A problem which 5G technology promises to solve.
Already this technology is being rolled out across the globe and our own nation. And the wealth of opportunities for investors are sitting there waiting to be pounced on.
Originally posted on: Money Morning Australia