by Stephanie H.
I was recently browsing online for a new hat, to cover up the unfortunate DIY haircut I gave myself. I looked at a few websites, looked at some companies on Instagram and also talked to a few friends about it. From that point on anytime I logged onto social media I was immediately inundated with ads for hats. The ads blossomed from there and before I knew it, it seemed like the internet had somehow concocted a whole idea of my personality, my hobbies, how I dressed solely based upon the type of hats that I looked at. I am sure that we have all had a similar experience as this, probably more than one. This is a phenomenon known as surveillance capitalism.
Surveillance Capitalism is defined as the commodification of personal data with the sole purpose of profit making. Simply put, it is the tracking and selling of personal information to companies who then use that information to sell you things. Online giants such as Google, Facebook, and Instagram (owned by Facebook) keep track of our digital behavior including the websites we look at, who we follow on social media, what news articles we read and post and form a composite of who they think we are as individuals. Most of the time we are giving this information to them for free, and they are making huge profits off of selling that information. With the advent of smart technology such as watches and home assistants, these companies are privy to even more of our personal information. Amazon’s Alexa has come under fire for recording all interactions that people have in their home, even if they were not interacting with Alexa, and having Amazon employees listen to these recordings. Apple just announced that their Apple Watch can now sense and keep track of when the wearer has washed their hands.
I know this all sounds very alarming and out of our control but there are easy ways for you to obscure at least some of your information! If you use Chrome as your main browser, you can pause data collection in My Activity. You can also download an extension to opt out of Google’s tracking. Mozilla Firefox is an open source browser that has many extensions that you can use to make your browsing more secure. This is the browser that I use personally. I also use the search engine DuckDuckGo instead of Google. DDG makes all of your searches private, and does not build a profile on you based off of your past searches. It also does not use location tracking to tailor search results, so you may have to spend a little bit more time going through search results.
When it comes to your phone there are some options as well. First of all, you should turn off location tracking and Bluetooth unless you are currently using them. You can also download a Firefox browser for your phone. If you have social media apps such as Instagram, consider using an email that is specifically for that account, and not connected to your regular email. One thing that I like doing to mess with Instagram’s ad algorithm is to mark ads as “not relevant” any time I see them, eventually the algorithm starts giving you extremely random ads.
Digital privacy is a huge topic that can be discussed for ages. If you want to learn more about privacy I highly recommend checking out the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They are a non-profit dedicated to digital privacy and have tons of easy to understand articles and practical tips!
This Saturday, August 8th, The City Library's Sweet Branch Teen Squad is presenting a one-night book club event to discuss the intense One of Us is Lying by author Karen M. McManus. If you've read the book, or are just curious, don't miss this teen-only event at 4pm on August 8th. Click here for the full event details.
More about the book:
We hope to see you on Saturday, but if you can't make it, let us know in the comments what you thought of the book. No spoilers please!
Blog posts are written by our Teen Librarians and, in some cases, teens like you. Visit your About page to learn more about our Teen Librarians.