Free Gmail, free Yandex cloud storage, free Facebook messaging... It’s all very nice, but the obvious question arises: What’s in it for the companies themselves? After all, a business without profit is not a business.
Yet all these companies make decent money, including from you. The price of free services is your personal information.
Why do they need it? To conduct more targeted ad campaigns, and offer products and services that you’re likely to buy. This allows them to extract more money from advertisers.
What information do companies harvest on you online? Information about your tastes, habits, preferences, inclinations, purchases, travels... Based on such data, they compile a behavior dossier to show ads that are more likely to hook you in.
Unsurprisingly, it is the Internet giants that have the greatest capacity for collecting user information. For instance, Google “remembers” all the apps you have ever installed on your Android devices, as well as your search history, YouTube videos
watched, and places visited. And a lot more besides.
To get an inkling of the depth of analysis, just look at some patents. For example, one of Facebook’s patent applications describes how the company is able to profile users’ daily routines! And in 2018 Yandex registered a patent for a “system and
method for determining the income of a mobile device user.”
Smaller companies cannot compete in terms of volume of information. But they too try to collect a dossier on you with indirect data and stuff that the Internet giants allow them to use. Put simply, they also track you.
For example, your search history can reveal a lot about your interests. Companies can get at it using cookies. These small files, which are left on your device by web pages, “recognize” you the next time you visit. It is very handy: Thanks to cookies,
there is no need, for example, to select the language or re-enter your account credentials each time.
Now imagine that an advertising agency posted banners on several websites. The first time you visit a page with such a banner, a cookie with the URL is saved on your computer. If you go to another website with a banner created by the same agency,
it will read the cookie and obtain information about your visit to that other site.
Why do websites allow third-party agencies to collect information about visitors? It’s a money-spinner. For example, on going to a news site, you are automatically connected to several dozen different servers whose owners get to know about your actions
on the portal. There is a very high probability that at least some of them will be interested in which articles you read. This information will help them compile a behavior dossier on you.
The websites themselves also monitor you. Suppose you visit an online store, and a window pops up asking if you need advice from a consultant. You type a question, but then change your mind about sending it. It might be too late — many popular portals
log all your actions, including information entered, even if it's not sent. This gives the company an insight into your unexpressed desires. Moreover, they are keen to learn which texts you read and which videos you watch in order to create more
And to make advertising campaigns more effective, so-called ad trackers are embedded in emails. These are tiny images that tell the sender whether you have opened the message and how many times. On top of that, they give the company your IP address,
which can be used to determine your approximate location.
Internet companies not only collect information about you, but share it with each other. Does a website let you log in through a social network account? If you agree, the social network will receive information about the page you visited, and the
website will gain access to all public data in your account: name, date of birth, place of study, work...
How to restrict the surveillance? We’ll explain in the next lesson.
What are cookies, and why do Internet companies use them?