When it comes to storing your information on the Internet, if you’re anything like me, you’re a cocktail of a doe-eyed, blindly trusting child, and a middle-aged conspiracy theorist living out of his Winnebago. You’re quick to save your credit card number, shipping address, and cell phone on your Amazon account, but even quicker to banish to Hell any app that request permission to access your contacts, text messages, or current location.
Except Groupon. Take whatever you want, Groupon App, just give me discounts on wine, painting classes and foot massages.
With Facebook’s recently announced acquisition of the messaging service WhatsApp, we see another notch in the belt of an ever impending monopoly, and Silicon Valley has gotten just a little smaller. Facebook now owns Instagram and WhatsApp; Google owns Youtube, Waze (now a part of Maps) and innumerable others; Amazon (specifically Jeff Bezos) owns the Washington Post; and the lists continue in similar fashion.
So theoretically, you could fill a day chatting with your friends, eating, posting pictures, watching your favorite videos, reading the news, buying new shoes, getting directions to your in-laws’ new house, and all of that information would be stored between Google, Amazon and Facebook’s databases.
And not only would they know exactly where you were when you did each of those things, but what credit cards you used, your search preferences, the content of your meaningless conversations, and who it was you were talking to. With Google Analytics, companies can already get a pretty good idea of what users are searching for, and organic search results seem to be more calculated as companies get better at using Google Webmaster Tools. It’s not just coming from good guesses.
Don’t let the Winnebago fool you, this isn’t a cheap conspiracy theory. This isn’t some “what if” that we still have time to prevent. This is our present reality. The nasty byproduct of giant tech mergers is an incredibly vulnerable amalgamation of personal data, and the potential fallout is catastrophic. Not if. When.
Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion. According to Mark Zuckerberg, they don’t have any intention of monetizing the app with ads, but are rather focusing on “connecting everyone in the world,” over the next several years. I don’t know if you remember a lot about your Business 101 class, but companies don’t just drop $19B on altruism. Clearly, Facebook puts an incredible value on the data that they’re getting from WhatsApp users—and without ads, they must have another plan to monetize that data.
What happens when Facebook gets hit? What about Amazon or Google? Banks have spent upwards of $200 million to smooth over the Target credit card breach—which affected tens of millions of customers—from a few weeks ago, but does that mean that all of our information is safe now? It’d be foolish to think that these companies aren’t creating preference profiles based on our searches, purchases, and click-throughs (which Google monetizes via Pay Per Click), so what happens when someone hacks accesses that wealth of consumer information?
Just this week, 300,000 personal records were stolen from the University of Maryland, including Social Security numbers, DOBs, and student ID numbers. Think of the damage that someone could do with those three pieces of information alone. Now incorporate every other part of your life online: from pictures, to passwords, conversations, likes, purchases, downloads, search history, and credit card information. It’s all out there already.
The Internet is well aware of your weird obsession with Jennifer Lawrence.
Facebook even openly admits that they won’t ever delete information you put on their website. So what if they acquire a money transferring service like Venmo? How about all of those Snapchats? As we get closer and closer to the complete monopolization of the Internet, I wish I had something more comforting to say, but let me attempt to brush my own naiveté aside and caution: be careful what websites you trust. Nobody’s too big to fail.