On Tracking

For Christmas, I received a Google Home Mini from my godfather. It was one of those items that I always felt like I would want, if I could find a purpose for it. And sure enough, a speaker that can set the alarm, tell me the weather, and of course play music proved to be very functional in my bedroom. But my sisters boyfriend saw something different in the Google Home Mini, something much more sinister.

“Okay Google,” he began. The speaker’s four lights lit up. “Are you sending my information to the NSA?”

“No government entity, US or otherwise, has direct access to our user’s information”, the speaker curtly replied. “Respect for the privacy and security of data you store with Google underpins our approach to producing data in response to legal requests. You can learn more in Google’s transparency report.”

This would’ve been humorous interaction, if were not a very real concern going on right now. Moreso now than ever, software tracking is a very common concern going on with even the most ordinary of citizens. Corporations want to know more about you than ever, and remember, if you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide!

Actually, no. That phrase is mostly associated with Joseph Gobbels.

It’s not all malicious, however. Sites like Facebook and Twitter use your personal info to attract content that most likely appeals to you. I like following voice actors on Twitter, so it only makes sense that their tweets and related tweets would pop up in my news feed, right?

And there is the slippery slope. “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” and all of that. When fingerprint scanning and more recently, face scanning became newfound methods to protect our smart devices, people were worried that our biometric data was being transferred to *insert national government organization here*. Unfortunately, this was all while we ignored the things that were actually being sent around on a regular basis:

Image result for android permissions

Does this look familiar? It should, it’s something that typically pops up on an Android device when you install an app. It’s the permissions that the app requests, and it’s permissions that are granted to almost every app on your phone, whether you agree to it or not. Now this isn’t tinfoil hat area; most of these permissions are for basic things that the app needs to function properly. After all, you wouldn’t want your Twitter app to not let you upload photos because you didn’t grant it photo/video permission, right? Unfortunately, some permissions aren’t nearly as transparent, and most of them are from the big names. For instance, if you knew that Google was actively tracking your location even with the permission turned off, that would sound a bit ridiculous, wouldn’t it? But that’s exactly what happened in the past, and while they have renounced that much since then, there’s that sinking feeling that they only did so because they got caught.

Some companies have been changing their attitude towards tracking, most notably Apple in Safari, making it difficult for third-parties to track you. While they have their own share of controversies, this is one area where the double-edged sword is in the favor of the consumer rather than the company, and indeed, some companies have been seriously feeling the burn over this.

But where do we fit into all of this, the grand scheme of the faceless company to know us better than we know ourselves? Do we have any responsibility in the wave of privacy compromises that have become commonplace in our technology?

Yes and no.

Privacy policies along with terms and conditions exist for a reason, and that reason is for companies to be as transparent as possible with you, even when they’re not. Occasionally, some vital privacy issue pops up that may be overlooked, and when something unwanted gets out there, it’s out there.

Image result for this does not let the app post to facebook

How much more stressful can this picture get if the bottom text wasn’t there, reassuring that some things will remain sacred after all?

But also, to an extent, some companies will have tricks up their sleeves in their crusade to try and market themselves to you as much as possible. There’s not much to do in this case…..or is there?n Notifications always have to ask you because chances are they wouldn’t be able to exist if they couldn’t. We’re so used to absentmindedly pressing “Yes” to these notifications and they’re not the most swiftest things to disable afterwards.

Maybe we should take the time.

To re-read these permissions.

To see if that app needs to really give us notifications.

And to worry about our Google Home Mini listening in on more than it should. (Mine is gonna hear mostly angry banter from me when I’m playing online games though, should be a peaceful existence for it).


One thought on “On Tracking

  1. Wait until the Mini starts suggestion some stress reduction activities….

    It almost can feel like a full time job just to monitor and fiddle with all the settings in our life. And I agree it’s most ominous when we think we are clicking the setting that protects our info and it really does not. There is talk of transparency, but again, it takes heroic work to examine it. Can’t we just trust the compan… Nah.

    As I am saying to most students, becoming more aware and critical is a first but important step. The challenge of doing all this work is what seems to compel people to shrug it off as more than what they can control.

    And as you suggest, the line between what the tracking can provide us individually as helpful or feedback to aid us has not a clear line of division from the kind that can take advantage of us. Isn’t it all a reflection of the complexity of human nature?


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