In our informational age data has become a currency. Without us knowing we pay for services with our data. Especially, Google and Facebook use our personal data to monetise their service. Nonetheless, the general public is not aware or does not want to be aware of this fact. Last week I saw the Zuckerberg hearing of the senate again and one question stuck with me:
How do you sustain a business model where users don’t pay for your service? – Senator, we run ads.
So, one can argue that the senator provoked this answer or not, in other words, if he knew or did not. However, I believe that many people do not realise what they are paying with.
The beginning of data collection
Data collection already started on larger scale before the Internet. The invention of computers and databases, especially RDB (relational databases) and SQL (structured query language) allowed everyone to write and retrieve data to/from databases. Card based loyalty program were one of the larger drivers of data collection in the early 1990s. The idea got so popular in Germany, the land of data protection, that nowadays 30 million Germans use Payback´s loyalty card. As result, the card is the third most important card in your pocket. Right after your debit and credit card.
The way it works is that you collect points for every purchase you make at a partner store. You can redeem your collected points for gift, discounts, or another equivalent to money. Well, that is how it works for consumers, but how do retailers benefit from this? Unfortunately, they have to pay Payback for their service, they have to install and pay all the technical appliances to use the service, they have to integrate it into existing cash register system and they have to transfer the data. Hence, they transfer data and they mine your data. In fact, they analyze every bit of your purchasing behavior.
What do Payback, Google and Facebook do with your data?
First of all, ask yourself what do they know about you?
- Name, address, date of birth, phone number, e-mail
- Place/location, date, time, purchase price of the product you bought, bonus points, discounts, type of product, …
For that reason, let us say Payback collects 10 data points for every product you buy. Further, let us assume that the average person visits 180 times a year supermarkets and drug stores and buys around 10 products. As result that’s 18.000 data points about you every year! Still, what do companies do with your data and why should you care? Here are the most common:
1) Usage profiles
- How many times did you buy razors, apples, certain clothes, do you buy more expensive groceries
2) Customer profiles
- How high is your household income?
- Which brands do you value?
- Have changed your lifestyle recently?
- How loyal are you?
- What demographic do you fit in?
- What characterises this demographic?
- Targeted deals in store
- Offline data collection targeting you online with ads
4) Other possibilities
- Determine the results of advertisement campaigns they run
- Decide what they sell and should not sell in their store
- Deciding where to open a new store
- Should they introduce a own brand for a certain category if they see little loyalty in that category
- Selling data to brands so that they can target customers purchasing rival brands
However, that is so 90´s.
GAFA – A new era of data collection rises
With the beginning of the Internet running ads became a strong monetization channel for digital products. Companies started to collect data on a larger scale. Companies such as Google and Facebook built their initial business model on ads. To improve your ad experience, in other words to target you based on your interests, they gather data. Nowadays, Google performs 3.5 billion searches per days. That´s 1.2 trillion search per year. Google runs services such as Chrome, Drive, Google+, Gmail, Hangout, Maps, Youtube and more. Every 60 seconds on Facebook are 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded.
I started using Facebook in August 2008. Almost 10 years ago. Back then Facebook had around 100 Million users. Nowadays, it has grown to 2.13 billion monthly active users and 1.4 billion log in daily. Facebook grew from making 273 million USD revenue and 56 million net income to 40.65 billion and a 15.9 billion USD net income in 2017. Everyone of us uses products such as Whatsapp, Messenger, Instagram, Oculus that all belong to Facebook.
“We generate substantially all our revenue from advertisement”
It was rumoured that in 2012 Facebook had already 7 billion ad impression on a daily basis. In 2017 this would have turned into 56 billions daily aligning to with user growth. I don’t know though, maybe someone can look that up. I guess it´s way more than that by now.
„Facebook knows so much about you they can make you believe they’re listening to your personal conversations. They have so much data about you they can send you ads that have an uncanny relevance to what is going on in the real world.“
How much is your Facebook data worth?
This depends on how good the service or company is able to monetise your data. Also, your location is a strong estimator of your data value. Since advertisers pay more for ads in some countries than in other they can drive higher purchases, making more money. If you look at Facebook here is how much your data is worth per year:
Locate, download, control and delete your personal data of Facebook and Google
The more companies know about you the higher the value of you data. Google or a Facebook aggregate all your data you have given to them.
1. They know all your business and personal interactions. If you have used Gmail the have all e-mail interactions including all spam email and all emails you trashed.
2. They have all your search history. Every search you ever looked up. I had a couple of thousand.
3. They know your calendar and activities you attend.
4. They have access to your data on drive.
5. They see all photos you uploaded to Google Photos. Are if your phone automatically check.
6. They have all your phone contacts or email contact. I don’t know how they even got them since I haven’t linked my phone nor do I use Android systems. Yes, Android might transfer all your contacts automatically to Google.
7. They have all your Google+ Activity.
8. They have your Youtube activity, videos you watched, subscriptions, playlists, and comments.
Personally, Google had a couple of GB data about me. Just thinking about combining my search history, with my exact locations and personal conversations I have over Gmail – exciting times?
Fortunately, the 25 of May 2018 was a good day for you as consumer. Since by than all companies have to by the European General Data Protection Regulation laws. The EU policy is designed to enable individuals to better control their personal data. This means that company have to provide you with your personal data upon request. Google and Facebook have done so and here is how to get it.
Step one: Locating your Google data
Head over to Google. Use these Links to get an idea about your profile, activity, and maps timeline.
Your Google Ads Profile
Your google activity
Your google maps timeline
Step two: Controlling your Google data
Check out who you have given permissions via your Google account. Via this link:
Permission you granted to third party app
Step three: Download loading your Google data
Get most of your Google data via this Link. After downloading
this is what it will somehow look like, depending on the Google services you use.
Get you google data
Step four: Deleting your Google Data
Delete your activity, ads profile, maps, and permissions according to your personal willingness. You can opt-out from some other advertisers via this link:
Now, what does Facebook know about you? Here is a short list:
1) Every message you have ever sent on Facebook. You can go through and search all your messages and conversations including group conversations, audio files, videos, files.
2) Your photos
3) Your videos
4) Events you have attended or not attend
5) Everything you added to your profiles as e-mail, date of birth, gender, name, city, homw town, relationships, family
6) Everything you ever liked interest, music, television shows, pages. 265 interest for me.
7) Groups + Group activity
8) Contact Information: I can see a lot of my friends phone numbers along with their names. I do not know how Facebook got it. Or if these are the friends of mine who verified their accounts with their phone numbers. But, I do see a lot of phone numbers.
9) Your whole activity in a list. Everything you have done on Facebook liking, watching videos, messages.
10) Your friends and all their birthdays
11) Interestingly, you see also all advertisement topics that you are interested in, every company, which has uploaded a list containing contact information (e-mail) from you to Facebook. If you don’t know this its quiet common to do re-targeting via e-mail list. You can upload a list and Facebook will find the according user and display your ads.
Step one: Locating your Facebook data
Facebook is not just Facebook. Also Whatsapp, Instagram, Oculus and Facebook Messenger are sharing your data with Facebook. Therefore, check the privacy settings of these services as well.
Step two: Controlling your Facebook data
You change your privacy settings in and change whats public, how sees your content (friends, family, everyone), control your app activity, (the apps you have given access to via Facebook), limit who see past posts. You can find everything under Facebook privacy settings.
Step three: Downloading your Facebook data
You can download a copy of your Facebook at by going over to Facebook → Settings → General and at the bottom you will find a small notice „Download a copy“
Step four: Deleting your Facebook data
So far you can only delete photos, one by one. Facebook will offer more privacy tools in the future. Hopefully.
Extra: Controlling your E-mail account
Find all your services and accounts you opened with your e-mail
This service analyses your Gmail and shows all your accounts you ever created. I deleted 253 accounts. Yes, 253 that’s a lot. I keep 29 services I trust now.
Check if your e-mail ever got leaked:
The Hasso Plattner Institute, founder of SAP, has developed a tool to check if your e-mail got leaked (Yahoo, Dropbox and many other companies had huge leaks in the past).