Do you feel like you are being watched?

Photo by Anthony Rosset on Unsplash

One day my nephew visited me, he makes me forget everything, play video games and watch crazy movies with him. We were talking about what game we would play that day. “Asphalt 8”, I suggested, but we were not sure. Later, I opened up my phone, surfed around different apps, and an ad popped up on the bottom, it was Asphalt 8. Cool, I thought, because I didn’t have to open Play Store, search for Asphalt 8, instead tapped the download button, just 2 clicks away. We had not decided yet, but were influenced by that advert, which seemed to be shown because we were talking about it. Isn’t it scary?

Well, in our case, it might have been a coincidence because even if the phone was listening, we were speaking in Uzbek, the Khorezm dialect. But I believe this phenomena has been confirmed by several other people in English speaking countries. Even if we put aside this microphone thing, IT giants like Google and Facebook already have a fearful amount of data about us. For years they have been tracking our online activities, and feeding these data to their over-engineered AIs.

Nowadays, data is everything, it can bring a lot of power and profit. I have recently discovered a simple use case of data about our search history by Google. I visited the newly opened branch of Everbest, an education center, needed to use the printer there. On my laptop, I google the drivers writing the model of the printer. Next day, I received a notification, from the Zoodmall app installed on my Android, telling me to buy that exact same printer. I did not check but it is likely that when I open the app, it would suggest me items according to my google search history. So, is it Google selling my history to Zoodmall.

With some research you can find out about supermarkets not working for profit, but only for data, tracking your moves, purchase habits, etc. You may see how Facebook is affecting politics, influencing people on how to vote, selling the data of over 80M people to a political data-analytics firm, called Cambridge Analytica, etc.

By now, you should be familiar with the saying: “If you don’t pay for a product, then you are the product”. They sell you to advertisers. YouTube is an example for this. Create a new google account, open up YouTube, at first, it will just show some videos popular in your area, after a while of using it, it is gonna figure out what kind of person you are and stuff your feed with videos that you definitely want to watch. It is called the YouTube Algorithm. When you develop AI, you usually give it a goal, and the goal of the YouTube is not to get you click on a video, nor keep you in the app and watching more videos. It’s goal is specified to increase ad revenue, and it recommends videos with that goal in mind.

YouTube has introduced Short videos in beta version, try watching only those for a while. YouTube does not show any ads there, so you are bringing no profit to the company. Then go back to normal videos, the amount of ads you are shown doubles, making the platform even more annoying. I am not sure about this, why don’t you check and confirm if it is true?

Where is this going? With that much amount of data, ad campaigns can target us very correctly, influence us, our decisions, and even have control over us. I don’t know how much and to what extent, but this advertising thing is a trillion dollar per year business and there must be a reason for that. It is not a big deal in Uzbekistan for now, but it will be some day. So maybe we should start thinking about our privacy. I will try to write about it more.