As the digital realm continues to overtake our reality as the primary destination for human output, those “masters of the web universe” are in a prime position to exploit us.
Just take a quick moment to think of all the instances in which you reach for your phone for help. Picking out a movie. Navigating to your destination. Texting loved ones personal thoughts and feelings. Making purchases.
All of these actions online are being harvested by companies you’ve given access to. And, worse yet, this information has become a revenue stream, as advertisers have begun compiling all of the necessary information from your online habits in order to better interject themselves into your conscious, waking mind.
Worst of all: We consent to this psychological black market every time we check the box indicating that “yes, we’ve read the terms and conditions”.
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Now, in what could be one of the most egregious oversteps in this realm of digital debauchery, phone applications that are supposedly helping you curb your bad habits are selling your progress data to social media companies….and not to help you struggle less.
The Denver Post reports that a recent study published in the journal JAMA Network Open this month alleges that a number of health apps that claim to help users deal with issues such as nicotine addiction and depression are, in fact, selling user data to tech giants such as Facebook and Google.
John Torous, a co-author of the report and head of the digital psychiatry division at a Harvard Medical School-affiliated teaching hospital, commented on the report stating: “Digital data doesn’t go away. A part of the risk is that we don’t fully know who is going to put this data together, when and where it’s going to show up again and in what context. … Data seems to end up in the hands of the wrong people more and more.”
The concerns should be obvious, but we’ll spell it out in order to expose the exploitative tactics at play.
Let’s say that you use an app to keep track of your journey to quit smoking, and, for the sake of argument, let’s say that you are struggling with quitting. Every 21 days or so, you have a little relapse and have to shame yourself by pressing that little button on the app that says “0 days”.
Now if Facebook knows that you only last about 21 days at a time, and that you struggle afterward, what’s to prevent them from selling this data forward to advertising firms who represent tobacco companies, nicotine patch companies, or the like? The answer is absolutely nothing, and these companies certainly have no qualms about exploiting your habit for profit…that’s why cigarettes are so incredibly addictive in the first place.
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