Online privacy is not a new topic anymore. Most of the people using the internet know that online services can track their activities. They choose to ignore it, continue to upload data online without worrying about consequences. Many think that they don't need to worry about it. They believe data used to show only relevant advertisements, but that's not all. Let's look at what is at stake here.
It's massive: Every choice we make when interacting with modern technology is recorded as data. Your every click on the internet, every tap on the smartphone is recorded. Almost 90% of the data is generated in just the last two years. Since the dawn of time, all the books written in every language till date would be around 50TerraBytes. One single company eBay has generated more data than that. Their archival size is more than 100TerraBytes. Think about all other companies out there who are doing the same. They are giants compared to eBay and have more users.
With your permission: Nobody is stealing our data; we permit them to track us. Here is how- Most users don't read the terms and conditions when they sign up for a website or install an app on the phone. These terms and conditions are usually extensive and boring to read. Still, it contains how the data will be collected and used. We are simply ignoring it, and it costs us a lot. We can't blame the companies.
Data is new OIL: This massive data contains a lot of information related to us. It has all of our choices, what we like, where we go, what we do for a living, how we pay, and much more. This data is highly precious. The information it contains can be used in many ways and has a very high market value. Data can tell more about people than they know about themselves. Datacenters holding this data have more protections than even gold vaults.
Machine Learning and AI: Human mind have limitations on how much data it can process. We usually think that computers cant beat our minds, but they already have. Machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence have already won against us. Let's take an example of a Chinese game called GO. It's a very complex mathematical game due it its branching factor. 18-time Go world champion Lee Sedol lost 4-1 with AlphaGo. It's a program developed by Deepmind technologies(Later acquired by Google.) When we feed data to these algorithms, they can spot patterns and connect data points way beyond than we ever could. Most tech giants collecting the data provide it to multiple algorithms to derive information and predict our moments.
Facial Recognition: Data contains a large number of photos and surveillance video footage. Facial recognition software has evolved over the years. Combined with machine learning and AI, these programs can convey a person's mood, gender, age, ethnicity, and even race. Surveillance footage in many Smart-Cities continuously monitors people. Whom they meet, what they do, everything is captured. It's possible to use this data in many good and bad ways depending on who controls it.
Who controls the data: Most people think it's governments controlling the data. They are the ones who put surveillance systems and make policies. Governments do generate a good amount of data. Still, there are private IT giants in the market who have much larger data sets. These are companies like Google, Facebook, Instagram. All these private companies with control over that data are going to use it to make profits. Showing you relevant advertisements that interest you is just one way to make money. Many other ways include sharing and selling data to other companies. Companies might not misuse the data, but it's not good to let them have it. Governments don't have control over them and what they do with the data. In many cases, we have seen governments struggling to get the information out of these companies.
The USA vs. China and India: Two major countries fight a silent battle over data, machine learning, and AI. Both are trying hard in the race to get better with control over data, surveillance systems, facial recognition. These countries have started applying algorithms and AI for their weapons. For, e.g., Google worked with Pentagon to develop an Auto-targeting drone that uses behavior analysis to find its targets. Another, e.g., In a match between the program and a real pilot, the program won. We are heading towards the era where these computers will be making many decisions and have massive data for them. China has half of the world's surveillance cameras. Imagine how much data must be generating every second there. In the context of judgment, technology is inferior.
India is not really in this race, but we have potential like no other country in the world. We have a great tech stack, Affordable internet, and more internet users compared to other countries. Indian users are a gold mine for tech giants. Our government needs to take a stand here and decide where we want to head. We can let the USA and China fight the battle and lead all other countries to a better path.
This article is just the tip of the iceberg. There is more to it than meets the eye. I hope this article helped you to understand the importance of data and online privacy. We will look at how they track us and what we can do to protect in subsequent articles. Until then, take care.