There is a dependency on technology within society, and it has gotten to the point where the lines between reality and the virtual realm are increasingly harder to distinguish from one another.
There is no realm of human existence that hasn’t been touched by technology. It’s seen with how people participate in consumer habits, learn new things and the influences on their decisions.
Innocent bystanders and users of every social media platform put their trust into tech giants. They want to believe — while skimming through the terms and conditions — that their posts won’t be used against them, but the sad truth is, they will.
Within the inescapable technological void that global citizens live in manipulation is ever-present and takes place in many forms. The information that is gathered from social media engagement, electronic purchases and location tracking can and will be used by the highest bidder for their personal gain.
Led by Letitia James, the New York attorney general, nearly every U.S. state and territory has come together to conduct an antitrust investigation into the affairs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
Those tech giants now face a total of 16 governmental battles; including eight federal, six state and local, and two congressional investigations and inquiries. Who knew that big tech would be one of the few issues to evoke a political agreement from both Republicans and Democrats?
These tech giants have large, sprawling empires across many services, such as Google’s search engine, smartphones, online video services, mapping and advertising, which lead to anti-competitive practices.
In fact, Google has been fined in Europe for its unfair advertising process, which favors its services over others, and it requires phonemakers to include Google applications if they want to use the Android operating system, according to the New York Times.
Many of these empires grow in their strength and influence by gobbling up other companies. For example, Amazon has acquired many companies over the years, including the security firm Ring and the grocery store chain Whole Foods. There is also a rising level of concern that the e-commerce brand is pushing out some third-party sellers on their marketplace with privately-owned and more affordable products.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, has ownership over The Washington Post, which raises concern as to what industry can even escape the grasp and influence of big tech companies.
Think about it, when was the last time you used Bing or Yahoo to search for something? Or vetted through the privacy settings of every platform and device you use? Most likely, not recently, or not at all.
The market power and influential ability of these data gatekeepers must raise eyebrows. After all, companies with so much power and influence over the tools and technology that humans use on a day-to-day basis, can’t be permitted to prevail as they currently do.
Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm based in Britain, was able to have a form of influence over millions of U.S. voters to elect President Donald Trump in the 2016 election by manipulating user data from Facebook, according to Wired.
The firm’s influence was possible due to how easy it is for third-party applications to collect data from users without their permission and predict their personalities and sensitive information from those users’ Facebook likes and online interactions.
Using this data, the firm was able to create personality profiles, and develop tactics to target each group state by state to extract the sweet supple power of fear to manipulate voters into supporting Trump.
Many will believe that the public outcry over this scandal is just hullabaloo, in which anti-Trumpers are crying out “injustice” because they’re unhappy with the 2016 election results, however this is not an isolated incident.
In fact, the firm and its parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories, have been accused of influencing a handful of elections across the world; such as the United Kingdom’s vote to secede from the European Union, better known as Brexit, the 2004 Orange Revolution of Ukraine and elections in Italy, Kenya, Nigeria, Mexico and Malaysia, according to BBC News.
Arguably, many Facebook users had not considered that their data could be used to such a degree, or if they did, they trusted that companies like Facebook wouldn’t put their users at risk for political propaganda or consumer manipulation.
On Aug. 23, documents were released to the public which suggested that Facebook knew about Cambridge Analytica’s data mining as early as Sept. 2015, according to CNBC. These documents included messages from Facebook’s employees, which revealed that they believed the data-scraping activities of Cambridge Analytica were likely non-compliant.
A Facebook platform policy that several believed was violated, stated that third-party apps must not “sell, license or purchase any data obtained from” Facebook or its services.
The monopoly that Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google have over services and data is problematic. That much power can easily lead to corruption or entice those with selfish desires to use and morph this data for their own gains.
Data privacy is more important now than ever. Particularly, with the global dependency on technological products and services, it’s nearly impossible to prevent oneself from leaving a footprint with their easily trackable data.
At its best, the crackdown on Silicon Valley and big tech giants can lead to a more just and democratic society, where users can freely use the internet without fear of being manipulated. However, this investigation will likely only result in fines and new regulations for these companies.
The reality that data can be paired with prediction of personality and habits should entice users to think twice about their online engagement and identity. While it may be difficult to escape the reach of technology, consumers can educate themselves to become more critical internet users, that view advertisements and posts with an analytical eye.
One can easily download a free ad blocker, or investigate the terms and conditions that people usually scrolled past quickly. Continuing the same online consumer habits does nothing but give power to tech giants who do not care if they have a monopolize the tech industry, or turning a quick profit off user data.