You are being Watched – Spying on Social Media

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‘Privacy’ in the online world is becoming a rare commodity, as social media begins to gain much prevalence in our daily lives. In this article we delve into the details and suggest ways you can, to an extent, safeguard your privacy on the Internet. Photo-Thomas Leuthard/Flickr

Do you ever get the feeling that you are being clandestinely followed or stalked online? For ex: remember writing that mail to your friends about the recent Himalayan expedition, only to find out on your next  login, scores of advertisements in your inbox about “Holidays in Himalayas” or “Best Hotel Deals in the Himalayas”? Or maybe you were searching on Google for articles on photography, and then voila, the next time  you are on Gmail, you have a flood of advertisements in your line of vision from Canon to Nikon, vying for advertisement space. Facebook, meanwhile, goes one step further. It chronicles your entire “Like” history to interested 3rd party advertisers, who then use it to peddle their products in your face!

Welcome to the age of online advertising espionage.

It’s eerie to think that someone’s reading your mind. But analyse a little further and you will come face to face with fact that, when online, you are not alone, and are constantly being monitored – 24/7. Social networking sites and advertisers  and sometimes even Government agencies are in cohort to get as much information is out there about internet users, mostly for business purposes and otherwise on grounds of national security. Google mentions on it’s site:

“We are always looking for more ways to deliver you the most useful and relevant ads – for example, we may use your Google search queries on the Web, the sites you visit, Google Profile, +1’s and other Google Account information to show you more relevant ads in Gmail. Ad targeting in Gmail is fully automated, and no humans read your email or Google account information in order to show you advertisements or related information.”

Like they are doing users a favour by snooping on them!

Though most social networking sites are coming out in the open about their advertising agenda, using user profiles (thanks to tech experts coming out with the reality of Adsense), what they dont tell you is how you can safeguard yourself from their  privacy onslaught. Facebook and Google does have the option for users to limit their tracking to an extent. The catch is you have to go looking for that information on your privacy setting options. They don’t volunteer that information easily.

The Internet is therefore the new battle arena in user privacy. The more time you spend online, the more information about you is being gathered online. The sum total of all your activities online, is then aggregated to build a profile, which can by computing genius, determine your threat level/potential consumer profile.

The latest in the eye of the storm is Raytheon, a multinational defence firm that has developed a software that tracks user information that they post on social networks. A video obtained by The Guardian reveals how an “extreme-scale analytics” system created by Raytheon can gather vast amounts of information about people from websites including Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. Named as “RIOT”-Rapid Information Overlay Technology,” Raytheon insists that it has not sold the software to any clients. The Intelligence agencies worldwide however, will find much interest in it, as national security has become one of the most concerning issues on social networking sites.

How Monster Spy RIOT Works :

[tubepress video=”-8w7F15vwaY” theme=”youtube” embeddedHeight=”450″ embeddedWidth=”640″]

Here’s the original interesting video from The Guardian titled ‘How secretly developed software became capable of tracking peoples online activities

According to Guardian, “The sophisticated technology demonstrates how the same social networks that helped propel the Arab Spring revolutions can be transformed into a “Google for spies” and tapped as a means of monitoring and control. Using RIOT it is possible to gain an entire snapshot of a person’s life – their friends, the places they visit charted on a map – in little more than a few clicks of a button.”

What the software does is aggregate all the places you visit, the pictures you put up online, and then provide the analytics of the movements. In essence it gives you a snapshot of a person’s pattern during the day. Not just that, by use of analytics it can even predict the person’s future course of action!  The question however that lingers is who will have access to this software and for what purpose it could be used. When you think about the possibilities it’s horrifying. What Corporations and States are seeking is therefore an  absolute control over information and surveillance. It is actually reaching the tipping point, where individual’s right to privacy and freedom have become an anamoly.

So the next time you are browsing, it makes sense that you are better informed on how you can, to an extent safeguard your privacy. The Infographic below shows you how.

Infographic on how we are being tracked online and what you can do about it
Infographic on how we are being tracked online and what you can do about it. Image courtesy- Backgroundcheck
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