Every step we take and every button we click leaves an indelible digital footprint in the modern world.
Ordering pizza through an app, using an online map while travelling or posting on social media might not seem like a big deal. Still, the information we share voluntarily every day runs into terabytes of personal data over the years. A cursory look into the type of user data routinely collected and kept by Google can make one’s hair stand on end.
Messengers boasting end-to-end encryption can by no means guarantee that your conversations won’t ever become public knowledge if someone sets their mind to it. VPN’s are meant to keep the digital identity of users hidden have been known to leak the most sensitive data, including addresses and payment information.
In other words, the more we’re trying to ensure our digital wellbeing, the more detrimental data leaks and security breaches may turn out to be – both for individuals and societies as a whole. The question that inevitably arises is who benefits from the easy accessibility of personal data? Governments have long been blamed for misusing access to citizens’ data. The Prism scandal in 2013 came as a bombshell as it revealed a US National Security Agency (NSA) programme with unhindered access to internet communications. Still, recently the focus of justice warriors has shifted from governmental agencies to private corporations.
Apart from using our personal preferences and behavioural patterns to target us with more effective advertising, corporations are attempting social engineering – that is, manipulating users into acting in their best interests. Its key players reveal the inner workings of today’s personal data industry – like, for instance, the developers of a new “emotion computing” platform that claims to recognise its users’ emotional state and predict their intentions.