Next thing you know, you have your phone in your hand and you are tapping away at your Google Maps app. And depending on signal, you find where you are and where you need to go to get away from the current place. It’s convenient, easy, and let’s face it, few people carry maps on them anymore as it is only currently acceptable if you’re hillwalking or a tourist.
So what is this post all about? Well, I tried using Google Maps yesterday and I was confronted with a permissions page. ‘Permissions’ are what the app is allowed to do on your device. In order to use Google Maps I need to let them use anything on my phone as they please including email address, contacts and media. They say they will not use it to personally identify anyone but that’s not possible as some people have their name as an email address.
What it is all about is data mining, a massive and expanding sector across the world. Companies like Google, Facebook – hell every big company wants your data. What you’re doing, when, why and with who is HUGE business for anyone who wants to sell to you. Why does Google want your data or my data? So they can make millions if not billions from selling data onto government agencies and private companies who can use it to help them do anything from swinging voting to tailoring adverts at people. Of course Google use it themselves but it is a huge part of their revenue and data mining is becoming a monstrously big industry.
It is the pros and cons of the internet, having technology readily available and having such a networked world.
I’ve picked on Google Maps a bit as it is such a popular app. But in reality a huge percentage of apps are now requesting your permission (or not even bothering to ask) to access your device and to then access and harvest your data. Social networking sites like Facebook are at least fairly transparent to some degree in that whatever you put on the site they can do with as they please. We know this. There are trickier apps out there however who won’t always alert you to the fact they are abusing your data.
This whole post was largely inspired by WhatsApp, Facebooks multibillion dollar acquisition. I wanted to stay in touch with my sister more easily as she is in the States, but I balked at the permissions which gives WhatsApp carte blanche to access your device and its contents. Due to its popularity WhatsApp commanded a huge purchase price – but the main thing Facebook is interested in is the added potential across platforms to harvest excessive amounts of data for their own gain.
I’m not implying that all apps are somehow evil and to be overly paranoid about them. Some apps are innocuous and don’t pose any danger of personal invasion. But even seemingly harmless apps like MyFitnessPal are collecting all sorts of metrics about its users.
It just seems like a lot of bullshit and I’m not prepared to involve myself in it or give away my data for free…until the next time I’m lost. And therein is the crux of data harvesting apps – almost too convenient that we rely on them. Then when you resign yourself to being lost you decide to play Angry Birds to alleviate the ‘lostness’ – it is one of the biggest data miners of all apps despite seeming like a harmless bit of fun (and pointless).
Ultimately we may not be singled out as individuals when the data is collated, packaged and sold but the potential is there to do so. There is likely more of an interest in voluminous data as opposed to you as a person. Either way to sign off on a totally professional note: me no likey.