Every action of every person inside the online universe is monitored by brands and social media platforms. You already know that by the constant influx of advertisements based on your previous online behaviors and the often opaque agreements to share your valuable data with multiple unknown entities.
It is clear that surveillance on the internet has become an everyday reality, but how deep does it go? A unique investigation by Consumer Reports aims to shed some light on the matter! Read more right below.
Data Tracking On US
Consumer Reports investigation, involving a sample of 709 volunteers, unveiled some numbers that tell more about companies sharing user data with Facebook:
- Each participant had their data relayed to Facebook by approximately 2,230 distinct companies; and
- Some users had their data shared by more than 7,000 companies.
The primary mode of data collection was server-to-server tracking, involving the transfer of personal data from a business's servers to Meta's servers. Despite the study's limitation, it is easy to notice the magnitude of the data tracking behind the scenes.
The study looked into two distinct types of data collection: events and custom audiences.
Both involve information about user activities outside of Meta's platforms, but accessing one's own data involves traversing a labyrinth of complexities, leaving several unresolved questions. For instance, many companies involved in data sharing had names that were either indecipherable gibberish or ambiguous, adding to the user's confusion.
Meta's Defense And Consumer Reports' Counterpoint
In defense of Consumer Reports' study, Meta pointed out the existence of multiple transparency tools that allow users to understand and manage the data that businesses opt to share. However, Consumer Reports has outlined several issues with these tools.
And as you've read below, the data shared online isn't merely from obscure data brokers: recognizable retail names, such as Home Depot, Macy's, and Walmart, credit reporting firms like Experian and TransUnion's Neustar, and online giants like Amazon, Etsy, and PayPal, were part of the top 100 companies identified by Consumer Report – that also suggested some ideas for policy changes.
Consumer Reports' Suggestions For Policy Changes
Consumer Reports has proposed several policy changes to address these widespread data collection practices, such as:
- Embracing data minimization strategies;
- Increasing the authority of authorized agents acting on behalf of consumers;
- Amplifying ad transparency; and
- Enhancing the data Meta discloses via its transparency tools.
Anyway, despite these recommendations, the responsibility to curb data collection remains with the consumer – at least for now. Opt-out mechanisms exist, but they necessitate users to proactively shield their privacy, which might not be feasible for everyone.