Big Tech is Watching You

Much like Google with Google Home and Amazon with Alexa, Facebook is looking to get into your house. They’re looking to do this through Portal.

Facebook introduced the new camera last week. Portal allows you to video chat with any Facebook friends from home, check the weather, the sports scores, you name it. All you need to do is say ‘Hey Portal…’

This is hardly a novelty if you ask me. And yet Facebook is hoping you will set Portal in your living room, kitchen or wherever else you hang out in your home.

Their timing couldn’t be worse. Facebook launched Portal while in the midst of — yet again — a data breach scandal.

Facebook promises it created Portal with ‘privacy, safety and security in mind’, but as reported by Recode, Facebook will be still very much collecting data from Portal to target you with ads.

Last Monday, we wrote: “No data collected through Portal — even call log data or app usage data, like the fact that you listened to Spotify — will be used to target users with ads on Facebook.”

We wrote that because that’s what we were told by Facebook executives.

But Facebook has since reached out to change its answer: Portal doesn’t have ads, but data about who you call and data about which apps you use on Portal can be used to target you with ads on other Facebook-owned properties.

“Portal voice calling is built on the Messenger infrastructure, so when you make a video call on Portal, we collect the same types of information (i.e. usage data such as length of calls, frequency of calls) that we collect on other Messenger-enabled devices. We may use this information to inform the ads we show you across our platforms. Other general usage data, such as aggregate usage of apps, etc., may also feed into the information that we use to serve ads,” a spokesperson said in an email to Recode.

That isn’t very surprising, considering Facebook’s business model. The biggest benefit of Facebook owning a device in your home is that it provides the company with another data stream for its ad-targeting business.’

The big question is, do you trust Facebook? Or any of the other big technology companies for that matter?

There is no doubt that the web has changed a lot since Sir Tim Berners-Lee created it almost 30 years ago.

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If you are not familiar with Berners-Lee, he is the inventor of the World Wide Web. He created it in 1989 while spending time at CERN, a physics research centre in Switzerland.

He noticed back then that scientists at CERN struggled to share information. The problem was that it was all stored in different computers that used different programs. That’s why he combined existent technologies to create the web.

His vision back then was that the web would always be free. An ‘open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries.

But 29 years on and that vision is failing. In fact, it has evolved into a bit of a monster.

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Big tech profiting from user’s data

Big tech are breaking your trust and entering your private life. That´s not what Berners-Lee had envisioned when he created it. As he wrote recently, ‘the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas.

That´s why Berners-Lee is taking time off from teaching at MIT to work on the world wide web again. But this time he is working on saving it.

He has a new project, Inrupt, with which he is looking to take power away from big tech centralised companies like Facebook and Google and give users control of their data. Inrupt’s first creation, Solid, is a decentralised web platform.

In a recent post in Inrupt published on 28 September, he wrote:

Solid changes the current model where users have to hand over personal data to digital giants in exchange for perceived value. As we’ve all discovered, this hasn’t been in our best interests. Solid is how we evolve the web in order to restore balance — by giving every one of us complete control over data, personal or not, in a revolutionary way.

Solid is a platform, built using the existing web. It gives every user a choice about where data is stored, which specific people and groups can access select elements, and which apps you use. It allows you, your family and colleagues, to link and share data with anyone. It allows people to look at the same data with different apps at the same time.’

How does Solid work?

Everyone gets a Solid identity, one that you can use to login into services and a ‘pod’ where you can store your data. You and only you can then give access to whoever you want.

In other words, instead of some big company holding all their data, users do. This massive idea could be the beginning of the end for big tech companies.

The truth is that not only are Google and Facebook taking advantage of your data for advertising and monetisation, they are also struggling to keep your data safe.

Both Google and Facebook have been struggling with data breaches.

Google has recently announced it was shutting down social media network Google+ after it was discovered that a bug exposed the data of 500,000 users for the last three years.

Google said they fixed the bug back in March, but we are only hearing about this now.

Facebook had a massive security breach with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And, last month, another breach exposed 30 million Facebook users.

Now, as Techworm reports, all that user data is getting sold on the dark web for about US$3 a pop. This could be YOUR data selling on the web for less than a cup of coffee.

Of course, saving the web won’t be that easy. It will take a lot of work to get people to switch, and big tech will very likely put up a mighty fight.

But backlash is growing.


Selva Freigedo,
Editor, Markets & Money

Selva Freigedo is an analyst with a background in financial economics. Born and raised in Argentina, she has also lived in Brazil, the US and Spain. She has seen economic troubles firsthand, from economic booms to collapses and the ravaging effects of hyperinflation, high unemployment, deposit freezes and debt default. Selva now writes from her vantage point here in Australia. She is lead Editor at the daily e-letter Markets & Money. And every week, she goes through each report and research note produced by our global network of trusted advisors to find the best investment opportunities for you in Australia and overseas. She packages these opportunities for you in Global Investor.

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