Big Data Startups — Profit Vs. Privacy

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In September 2019, I stopped using Google Chrome as my default browser and Google as my default search engine. The reason I did this was because I was starting to get a little concerned about my privacy online.

Some days ago, I was on a call with one of my friends. He is working as a software engineer, but he was looking for a career change. Guess what he was considering — Big Data! I wasn’t surprised, but asked him why. His reasons were simple — big data was a blooming field with lots of job opportunities, good salary and a lot of startups, in case he needed to get an internship.

The Driving Factor of Big Data

That night, I sat down and wondered what was driving big data and why is it becoming so important these days. You would be surprised if you don’t know yet, but the fact is that it’s you. You and me both, we are the drivers of big data.

Big data companies know more about you than you know about yourself.

It’s simple. When you do a search on Google for something, the next moment you see an amazon ad for the same, even when you are browsing a website that has got nothing to do with the particular product. I love Jeeps and in fact own one, but I can assure you that if I open my phone and read a review about a Hyundai car, I could still see a Jeep ad somewhere in the corner.

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Exciting and creepy at the same time, I find it interesting to see how companies can use your activity as data, which helps them earn money. We’re talking billions and millions here. Technically, you and I should own royalty for that, in a perfect world. But we don’t. Instead, we pay for it — our internet connection, the smart devices we have at home, our telephone bill etc. If you calculate everything, it will at least add up to 500 dollars a month.

The Ethical Question of Big Data

You might wonder how this is considered ethical in today’s world. If a company can earn millions of dollars with your data, they can pay a part of it to a legal professional to keep themselves safe. You might also not be as aware of you think you are, and again, you are not to blame.

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Ever wondered how many times you scrolled to the bottom of an end-user license agreement and clicked ‘I agree’ when you installed a software on your computer? You don’t have time to go through every single word of that 50-page document that was compiled by a legal professional who is probably being paid 100,000 dollars a year. Somewhere in this agreement there will be a clause saying that you consent to the collection, manipulation and use of your data.

The fact that this is legal due to consent is just the tip of the iceberg. If you delve deep into the world of big data business, you will understand that these companies do not have to disclose everything they do. In fact, that is how most businesses work. If they tell you everything they do, they are not a business. They are letting their secret out and losing their business to their competitors. As much as you would hate to hear this, it is ethical for companies to use your data, but there is a catch.

Data Handling Is the Answer

In 2017 and 2018, Facebook was in the hot seat for their misuse of user data. Many other companies that use your data face independent and collective lawsuits from different users every day. While it is legal and ethical for a big data business to use your data, the way they handle it is what could get them in trouble.

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As long as the data is collected, stored and used anonymously, the business is safe. But if they misuse your data and even if it is not stored securely, they could be in serious trouble. This includes data breaches, leaks, revealing your identity, or selling it. If someone is clever enough to find this and file a lawsuit against the company, it will come to light. Otherwise, there is a big chance that your data could be misused and no one will ever know about it.

The least a big data business could care about is you. All they want is your data, and they want to make profit out of it. Unless it is some government entity that is hunting for your data, it is mostly collected and used anonymously.

How Do You Protect Your Privacy?

The moment you are connected to the internet using a device, you are leaving your online fingerprints. In reality, there is no way to protect your privacy, no matter what you try. Even the biggest internet security experts will tell you the same.

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However, there are a few techniques to minimize your privacy from being at stake. Try using search engines that are not mainstream. Using a VPN helps, but not to a great extent. Monitor your internet connection and how your devices respond. If you see ads bothering you, you have options to temporarily dismiss them.

While big data is a threat to your privacy, it also helps in many ways. It could help you find something you like. So, instead of worrying too much, accepting that our data is used somewhere may not be that bad after all.

Living, learning and inspiring, one quarter mile at a time.

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