We humans are social creatures by nature. We love to communicate, interact, and share our experiences with others. And we’ve had ample opportunity over the past decade to watch these interactions change and evolve in an incredibly short period of time. And just as we have changed with these innovations and influences, so has the industry around us.
How did it all begin?
A few decades ago, your family and acquaintances were essentially focused only on your immediate geographic location, perhaps there were a few “pen pals” beyond that, and you may have already owned a phone. However, the advent of digital media has radically changed our social environment. Since the formative years of social media (who remembers “Tom from MySpace”?), more than 3.5 billion people – that’s 55% of the world’s population – already have a social media presence. You probably have a brand new app running in the background of your cell phone right now, too.
No wonder many companies were quick to notice this trend and jump on the bandwagon. Their main interest has been to look for ways to make the most of our online activity for themselves. Would you like to know what data you are disclosing as part of your everyday activities, why it is being collected and how it is being used? We’ll reveal the answers later in this article.
First, it’s important to clear up a few facts. The generic term “social app” doesn’t just refer to social media applications like Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. A “social app” can be any application whose user base has some elements of social interaction. These elements don’t necessarily have to be as extensive as the networking and media sharing options offered by the apps mentioned above. Even the most basic online ranking is enough to define something as a “social app.”
This may seem like a self-explanatory question, but in truth, it’s not at all. Besides the most obvious data like name, age, gender, date of birth, etc., there is additional information that you may not even think is being collected when you are on the Internet. For example, every time you log in to one of the apps you use, it tells you what time you logged in and how long you were online. But that’s not all the data sources companies are looking for. They’re also interested in what content engages you the most and what websites you prefer to look at.
What will this data be used for?
The potential use cases for our pulled data vary widely across their spectrum, but much of it can be grouped under the heading of “personalization.” Companies specializing in data analytics have realized quite quickly that the marketing practices of the “good old days” are long gone, and that they need to adapt to these new realities quickly if they don’t want to go under. It is completely ineffective these days to cast a single wide net over all users and then fold your hands and hope to appeal to the widest possible range of customers with this spread of marketing activities. Today, the activities that you set on the web and that are (in)directly disclosed to companies reflect your experiences, interests and preferences, and are therefore completely tailored to you.
The example you’re probably most familiar with is personalized ads and content. Well-known sites like Facebook and Instagram allow advertisers to reach those most likely to be interested in a particular product or service. That’s where we get the term “targeted advertising.”
But personalization can also be a driver for the “social gaming” market in certain cases. From your gaming behavior, whether you can fling red birds at some mischievous piggies, engage in candy-making, or grow the smallest settlements and most desolate swaths of land into thriving metropolises, companies have created opportunities to capitalize on your activity. The social casino applications, in particular, should be mentioned here as examples, where you can play casino games for free but still have the opportunity to buy virtual chips several times during the course of the game if you run out of the free play money provided. So, you can spend a lot of money in these gambling temples, actually just as much as in real money online casinos. However, the only difference between the two offers is that unlike the professional casinos, you can never win anything of real value in the “social casinos.” If you’re interested in exploring real money online casino options and checking out exciting promotions, don’t forget to discover Staycasino no deposit bonus. So, to sum up, we can say that social apps collect the “what, when, where, how, and with whom” you play. Based on this collected data, tactics are then applied to tailor their activities as they see fit. These companies then offer special deals tailored to you, promote competitive play on a global and personal level via permanently updated leaderboards, or pitch you apps, games, and features that you might like or be into. This type of mechanism is called “gamification” and is used everywhere in the digital world, and ranges from free games to language learning programs to fitness trainer apps.
Companies not only use the social data you leave behind on the web, but they also benefit from the data trails you leave behind in your browser search history, for example, and in some cases even tap into your “offline data.” This information you reveal, mostly unconsciously, can range from where you live, your favorite foods, frequently frequented stores, to family and children’s events and your current illnesses.
This data collection may well become problematic for you if ever this data could be used against you, because you will most likely never have given your consent to such “data mining”. But this screening of the individual does not end there. All of your published data will be collected, stored, processed, and then prepared in such a way as to create an accurate profile of you and then use that profile. This profile is then a) shared by partner companies or b) resold by to different companies. And all for one reason: to make profit from your data. And all this happens without you having the faintest clue, completely unnoticed! The worst thing is probably the fact that these profiles are often completely false. Too often these facts have been documented in the past.
Here is a particularly frightening story regarding the use of personalized data. In 2018, data analytics company “Cambridge Analytics”, used data collected and (possibly illegally) obtained from Facebook to decisively influence the 2016 US presidential election.
But there is also the other side of the coin. The simple truth is that people actually enjoy their convenience and in many cases don’t actually mind having things personalized for them. This is the only way to have those conveniences that you might want to see and do served to you on a silver platter. But this fact comes at a price, of course. So the all-important question is, “How much of my privacy do I want to give up for a better online experience?”
There is no one hundred percent way to completely protect yourself from third party data use. However, you can take precautions. For example, Facebook recently provided a feature that allows you to deliberately limit the use of your data. In addition, one of these companies has launched the website “aboutthedata.com,” where you can track exactly what information they have already pulled about you. Unfortunately, however, the industry continues to be opaque at best, and we can only hope that we will be able to surf in clearer waters in the future.
Dear reader, congratulations on making it to the end of this article. Now you know what data trails you are consciously or unconsciously leaving behind on the Internet every day, how they are being used, and how you can combat these tactics. So the next time you discover ads targeting your exact interests on the websites you visit and you’re seduced by terribly tempting offers in one of your apps, now you know exactly what’s all going on behind the scenes.