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Intrusive Technology and Privacy Writing Assignment (Essay Sample)


The use of technology has meant allowing service and product providers to invade our privacy, and given THE GOVERNMENT access to all aspects of our lives

First and Last Name Professor Class June 14, 2018 Intrusive Technology and Privacy People’s lives today are surrounded, supported and even managed by electronic devices. With the advent of the internet, these devices ensure that personal data does not remain personal. Smart TVs, phones and every other device that connects to the internet collect small details about the user, sharing them companies that specialize in building a complete picture of the consumer. By doing so, every individual can be targeted on a personal basis with specifically targeted products and services. This is corporate and government surveillance which has been allowed by people into their homes and their pockets, thus becoming an open target for marketing, and more worryingly, spying.  Devices connected to the internet have become the norm in households. Earlier, the only smart device with someone used to be a computer and mobile phone. However, nowadays everything ranging from televisions right down to refrigerators and home lighting can be controlled through the internet. These devices can even interact with people using voice. In effect, they can be used to record sounds, read private texts and emails, and build a profile using not just online activities, but also offline one. These include the routes one takes, the groceries one buys, and even sleep patterns. As with all things related to information technology, there is always a possibility that even the most well-protected data stored in the most secure environment can be hacked and misused by those who are so inclined. There are many ways that cyber-attacks can occur. Mobile phones, laptops, computers, internet routers, and even smartwatches and televisions are vulnerable to hacking. One such example was the “weeping angel” tool which was used to target Samsung Smart TVs, ostensibly at the behest of the CIA. A TV that is exploited by this tool goes into fake standby mode. The user believes that the unit is switched off, but in reality, only the monitor gets turned off. The microphone and the internet connection still work, and the TV has the capability of recording conversation and sending them over the internet to whoever ran the tool on it (Hollister). This is just one example of the malicious ways in which electronic devices can be used to spy on people. On the other hand, corporate firms can utilize a plethora of information that people leave as their digital footprints. Every laptop and mobile phone stores information about the user’s personal information. If all such details of billions of users are put together, they become a dataset of prospective clients for big businesses. There is an adage which says “If you’re not paying for it, you are the product”. Everyone uses some or the other online service which offers a huge amount of convenience for free. These range from email and social networks to shopping. People can send emails, messages, share photos, shop from the convenience of their homes, with absolutely no cost. There is a price to be paid, but rather than a monetary one, it is the loss of one’s privacy. Browsing patterns, shopping lists, and other activities are studied by the service providers to prepare what can only be called individuals dossiers, and these are sold to other business to allow them to market their wares effectively. Many websites use software that monitors the users' inputs on their portals, and they can profile the person’s habits, interests, and requirements on the basis of this data. Users can be segmented right down to a single person, and this information is then sold to businesses as “leads”. There also exists a darker form of the use of personal details. Spying on internet users is one of the fastest growing businesses. Companies use cookies and other surveillance tools that asses and analyses users. Though cookies have been in use ever since the birth of the internet, the way they are used now in conjunction with other methods has become much more pervasive and intrusive. With or without prior permissions, websites put in tracking technologies on personal computers. Instead of the relatively harmless content that cookies store, these new tools allow access to users’ locations, shopping habits, income levels and even medical issues. Even the most tech-savvy user can occasionally be flummoxed by these tools, as the more intrusive ones have the capability to persist in the system even after deletion. By collating all manner of data, the user’s profiles can be bought and sold in online markets. This has had a huge impact on the economic structure of the internet. Previously, advertising used to be limited to ads on web pages. However, nowadays advertisers follow users as they visit various websites and show extremely specific adverts. A person who has searched for used cars, for instance, will continually see banner ads for cars no matter which website he or she visits. The tracking companies and data brokers act as middlemen between the advertiser and the user. The competition between these companies is huge, which is why they go to occasionally questionable lengths to provide the most in-depth data to the advertisers. In doing so, they completely disregard the concept of the user’s privacy. On the part of the advertisers, instead of buying access to ad space on web pages, they now purchase direct access to people. Though bordering on being illegally intrusive, these businesses function because so far the data provided to companies is anonymous. The individual is identified through a sequence of letters and numbers rather than a name. This code points to a database of information about various attributes behaviors and habits about the person. The justification offered is that the data is primarily harmless and that by allowing better targeting, it is not an ad that is being served, but important information. Tracking in itself is not a new concept, but the number of attributes which can be monitored is growing every day. Small pieces of code or programs called cookies, flash cookies or beacons are installed when one visits a website. Cookies are the most basic of such trackers, with the rest being more complex (Tirtea et al.). US courts have deemed the former to be legal, but have e been quiet on the latter. This is alarming because the intrusive nature of newer tracking tools needs to be brought under legislations since they are already being misused. One such technology is “third party” tracking files. After installing on a user computer, this assigns a unique ID to the computer and keeps track every online move the person makes. The businesses which use this technique have huge affiliate networks which allow them to create a very detailed and precise profile of the individual. This data is used and even traded extremely quickly. Today, the internet is everywhere, and people have usernames and ID’s not just on websites, but also on every connected device. Whether awake or asleep, people use technologies and gadgets that are connected, and sometimes knowingly allow themselves to be tracked. Personal data has become a valuable commodity for sales. Companies sell us products where they explicitly state which information will be shared, but people accept that almost unconditionally, Google, Facebook, Apple and almost every other company tells users that such sharing can be turned off at any time, but no one ever does. The “Like" and “Share” buttons from Facebook are present on almost every page that one visits nowadays. It is very convenient to be able to share a tidbit of information or lie a company so that one may receive updates. However, this is a two-way street, and by sharing or liking such content, the user is also providing access to his or her online activities. To disable such tracking, one can log out of Facebook, but then, it is not possible to share or like a webpage or a post. Just for the sake of this convenience, people allow 24/7 tracking. In fact, the value of Facebook as a company is derived primarily from its vast user base and the tremendous amount of individual data that it can make available to other businesses. Each user is a certain number of dollars in Facebook’s valuation. Another 21st-century technological marvel that no one can survive without today is the smartphone ("The Problem With Mobile Phones"). This is even worse than computers because of its ease of access. Where a laptop has to be switched on and used, a smartphone is continuously working, whether in one’s hand or the pocket. A small example is the location services on phones. It is beneficial when trying to find out the closest subway station. The phone will give accurate directions and estimated time of arrival, while tracking your location on a map and updating it to the nearest meter. Whether it is Apple or Google, these location records allow the companies to build up a dataset of places one frequents and can be used for serving ads which market businesses in that general area. The basic functioning of a mobile phone is made possible by sharing the user’s location with the service provider. These devices connect to different towers as one moves around. Therefore, though this location is not as accurate as a GPS one, it still provides a general area to the phone compan...
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