Our data in the online world

The internet (or World Wide Web as people called it in the early 90s) is now 31 ½ years old! It sounds like a lot, and well, it is a lot. However, the internet as we know it today with instant messaging and 4G, social media and smartphones only started out in the early to mid 2010s.

And this modern internet is, at least to me, kinda terrifying.

Okay, maybe I’m overreacting a little, but the modern internet business model is focused around what would normally be unacceptable in the „real life“ – Selling other people’s data.
Many companies took advantage of the internet being relatively new at the time and the subsequent lack of laws about what is acceptable for internet companies to do and what isn’t.

In the past, we were on our Windows XP computers surfing the web with Internet Explorer 6, visiting websites like Google or Yahoo to search answers to our questions, or watching videos on YouTube. (which was not yet owned by Google)
As social media, we had sites like Myspace, a simple platform to communicate with people. This was a time where smartphones didn’t exist, and so we wouldn’t always be online, like when we were going outside.

A typical Windows XP desktop with sites from 2005.

Today, we are spending most of our time being glued to our smartphones watching short videos on TikTok.
It may not sound like a big deal, but the real problem is that the more time you spend on platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or even just by searching on Google, these companies are collecting data about what you like. And worst of all, they then use your data to MAKE PROFIT.

What Meta (that’s Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus) knows about you.

And TikTok, originating from China, is a prime example.

On the 23rd December 2022, it was revealed that two journalists, who leaked new features of TikTok to the public, had their location being found by ByteDance, the company behind TikTok, because they were using TikTok. Of course, the employees who did that were fired afterwards, but it still proves that if they wanted to, they could track your location.
Worst of all, becuase ByteDance is a Chinese company they are forced to give this data to the chinese government if asked. And as they are communistic, they might be using that data for something that could affect us.

TikTok is DEFINITELY a privacy monster.
How can you escape it? It’s easy, buy an iPhone.
As they say it themselves: „It’s your data. iPhone helps keep it that way.“

However, Apple is also kind of lying to us.

As of a few days ago of me writing, Apple has been fined 8 million euros by a French privacy agency for collecting user data without them knowing. Because the this with Apple is that they let you prevent any app from tracking you except their own. So even Safari could be collecting your browsing history data, so Apple can show you relevant ads in the future, as they also want to jump on the „ads-fed-by-user-data“-train.

It’s the same problem with macOS, Windows, Android and more. The only way out of this data collecting nonsense would be to get people out of their comfort zone by quitting Windows and macOS for Linux, iPhones and Samsungs for Linux phones, Google for DuckDuckGo, Qwant or Startpage, and quit social media and YouTube and replace them with Odysee and Mastodon, for example.
And boy is that difficult.

DuckDuckGo, an alternative to Google.

I can speak from my own experience: I tried many times to switch from Windows to Linux, but I just kept coming back because Microsoft Office just doesn’t exist or work on Linux and alternatives like LibreOffice just don’t match up to it, at least for school. I also kept coming back to Google as a search engine. 
However, I don’t need to care about the biggest data collectors, who are social media, as I’ve never really had an account anywhere except Discord, and I don’t really have the fear of missing out on things too much.

The biggest problem in the future for me however would be phones. Because WhatsApp is not owned by Facebook and is not only collecting data, even though they day they don’t, it also isn’t available for Linux and Windows phones.

PinePhone, a Linux smartphone.

However, I’m okay with internet companies using a little tracking, I don’t mind that. What I do mind is if TOO MANY trackers are being used, like on the TikTok website.
If you want to know how many trackers and ads are being used on a website, you can use a browser extension called uBlock Origin.
If I just open the website, uBlock already blocked 10 page elements, which are almost always trackers. But the more I stay on the site doing nothing, that number goes up to 20 or more… Why? Because of the TikTok algorithm. It now knows that I like this video and tried to collect that data so it can feed me other ones like that. Even YouTube is lighter on that, with uBlock only blocking around 5 to 10 elements on opening the page and blocking around two elements per search I made. 

And although YouTube still has less tracking than TikTok, it is still a lot, especially when comparing it with Odysee, at YouTube alternative, which only has one element blocked when opening the website, and one to two more when searching.

When you look at all these things combined, you see that the internet has really grown on us and we just can’t live without key platforms like Google and WhatsApp. This leads to these massive, data collecting companies having a giant internet monopoly.

I hope you enjoyed this look at what’s happening behind the scenes when you use big internet services.
Stay safe on the internet, reduce your TikTok time and read privacy policies!

Author: ol.se

Screenshots: self-made, Meta Privacy Center, DuckDuckGo 
Images: PixabayWikimedia Commons (image with public domain licence) 
Sources: Meta Privacy Center (archived version from 24th December 2022), CNNApple YouTube Channel 

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