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Is it possible to prevent big data companies, from being able to get your personal information?

Big data - cambridge analytica

Nowadays, every time you access the internet, you leave trails. These trails are being used by big companies such as Facebook or Google, they claim that they use your data to enhance your experience and improve the quality of service. Many of you have heard the news regarding the Cambridge Analytica data Facebook scandal. Mark Zuckerberg took way long to respond and address the issue. There are tons of information big companies know about you, such as:
  1.  Your age: even if you never told them, they will still manage to show you ads that interest you.
  2.  The internet knows where you live and work: Every time you access the GPS, a lot of data are being saved including the places you visit frequently.
  3.  The internet can predict your relationship status: Believe it or not, your behavior online can show whether your relationship is going to last or not.
  4.  Your mobile phone knows how fast you were driving.
  5.  Some big cities are equipped with technology that can predict your crime before you do it, china is already implementing it.

The list can go way longer than this. The internet knows more than you think. In fact, the internet knows you better than your spouse.

Can we really hide from being categorized by big data companies such as Cambridge Analytica or Google?

The short answer is no you can’t, not yet. Unfortunately, the internet will always find a way or another to collect data about you simply by the way you browse the web. You don’t need to tell the internet about your personal information because it’s so good at predicting that anyways. Companies have always wanted to know as much as they can: what type of products we use, which brands we like, which marketing strategy works for us and many more. However, companies not only use buyer behavior but to predict your personality portrait, which not even your close family would be able to guess it. Scary right!!

Big companies such as IBM and Kosinski use famous psychology model called the five personality trait (FFM) or OCEAN

personality OCEAN

Openness to experience: Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has.

Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to be organized and dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior.

Extraversion:  (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness.

Agreeableness:  (friendly/compassionate). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others

Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). Neuroticism identifies certain people who are more prone to psychological stress.

The Big Five personality traits model is to understand the relationship between personality and behaviors. This model was studied by many independent researchers. These researchers began by studying relationships between a large number of known personality traits. For more detail about this cool model visit Wikipedia.

You can now analyze your personality by using Cambridge engine here or IBM here The idea is that language reflects your personality, thinking style, online behavior, emotional states and social connection. IBM is doing extensive research on how to represent these data into behavior prediction. Is it possible that in the future, every single decision we make, could be planted/constructed out of a reality that would not have been our own? I hope not.


Let’s assume you quit social media or made your profile as private as possible, is it enough?

Well, I don’t think so, because if you have friends posting pictures of you or copying you on their email messages or even show that they have a relationship with you, a company like Facebook knows who your friends are, they can try to guess about you based on what your friends do. This mechanism called “Shadow Profile”. Technology is insane, isn’t it?

On the other hand, tech geeks suggest that these data minings are a set of data collection of users’ behavior, and not targeting a particular individual on its own. In other words, the idea of having users’ data is to be able to analyze and act on a population segment but they don’t really know you… or me…. or anyone else in particular. Systems simply do their best to enhance our experience online and make it more enjoyable. Or do they? Furthermore, there are 7 billion people on the planet, and the majority of them are not out to get you unless you believe that you are important enough to pursue privacy or you just don’t really care.

The only way to prevent big internet companies to collect your data is to go offline. Are your willing to do that? Also if you can minimize your exposure to internet ads, then you also minimize the data collection. There are some steps that might minimize the effectiveness of data collection:

  1.   Limit the amount of info you share online.
  2.  Be sure to have your profile as private as possible and not leave everything publicly out there.
  3.  Do not allow random internet apps access your social media profile. Especially those that tell you they can guess your future car, career, wife, etc. Or promise to tell you how handsome you are. Just ask your mom she knows best.

In conclusion, no one likes to think of themselves as being vulnerable and able to be manipulated. The question is how much are we making our own reality out of the things we see and experience every day? Can we safely say that our beliefs and values are created independently of the environment we live and breathe in? I will leave this to you to decide.

Before you leave take a look at this interesting video that explains how companies unlock the power of big data. The future of Big Data and Analytics will come with cognitive systems that rely on learning from data to provide better recommendations, and soon companies will realize to function successfully they will need to make Big Data the center piece of their business.

Stay safe...

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