Information harvesting: The good, the bad, and the manipulative

The Google campus in Mountain View, California on December 4, 2019. After years of criticism about how it keeps a record of what people do online, in 2020, Google said it would start deleting location history and records after 18 months. (Photo: New York Times)
AMMAN — People are slowly becoming more and more aware of their data’s security and the apps that tend to comb through their info a little too much, often going as far as asking for access to their contact list. اضافة اعلان

Both IOS and Android are known to collect as much data as they legally can. And while the extent of this information over the last couple of years has significantly fallen, even knowing what type of device a user has is enough to assist marketers in accurately targeting you and others like you through their catered marketing. 

The topic of information security and harvesting is very controversial among the general public, businesses, and information brokers. 

In this article Jordan News will touch on the how apps collect your data, why they do it, who benefits, and why the situation is not as black and white as either party would have you believe. 

Why do companies harvest data? 

In short, its incredibly profitable.
However, by taking a more holistic approach to the question, you can begin to see that the boundaries aren’t as clear cut as they would appear at a first glance. 

App companies are just like your traditional business — they have bills to pay, payroll to finance, and ongoing development costs to take care of. Before even starting an application business, (provided that it’s large enough), most companies opt in to purchase data from data brokers — companies whose sole purpose is to amass large pools of data on individuals. 

The real reason businesses purchase data is because it creates a certain degree of certainty throughout their operations. An app that enables time saving would be very keen on targeting individuals that spend most of their day on social media rather someone that spends less than an hour a day on their phone. Therefore, the information that they purchase allows them to target specific demographics. 

So, this allows both sides to benefit greatly from a relatively illicit activity — brokers are encouraged to sell data because of the commissions they get and companies gain insight into game-changing information. 

While some might consider this manipulative, there is another side to this coin.  

A marketing take on the problem

App development companies that choose to create products of value for a selected demographic, when the data is used correctly, see significant growth over short periods of time. 

While it is no secret that almost all companies set out to create products in order to gain financially, the reality is that value is still being created for the general user of the app — otherwise they wouldn’t have downloaded the app in the first place. 

While there are apps that maliciously use data in order to directly trick their users into buying a product of absolutely no relative value, most apps on the market that purchase data on a large scale often work on projects that beneficial to the market, due to having a direct financial incentive to do so. 
By viewing data harvesting from the company’s perspective, we can see that there is ultimately a benefit to tracking your information in order to better create value for the whole ecosystem. 

Let’s take advertisements as an example, as they are generally directly targeted towards individuals that are most likely to interact with a product that is being marketed. 

An advertisement agency might purchase data on fast food consumption within a designated area if they have been contracted to market a new sandwich coming from McDonalds. You, being the fine connoisseur of the fast-food industry, are part of that marketing data. The data collected includes how much you spend on fast food per month, your favorite restaurant, and what burgers you typically order. 

The marketers realize that you, and many others like you who share similar habits and purchase patterns, would love this burger. They place the ad, pay their fees, and wait for the results.

Later that week you open an app or go online to order food— and find the ad for McDonald’s newest burger and decide to go down and grab a bite. As you eat the burger, you discover a new favorite, and from there decide to keep ordering the burger for the foreseeable future. 

Again, this can be viewed as manipulative, but with a side dish of value creation to offset the bad taste in everyone’s mouth. 

What data is harvested? 

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the limitations on the extent to which data can be harvested via apps has been significantly limited over the course of both the IOS and Android store’s existence. However, there are still many data sets that can be used in order to create a relatively accurate image of who you are as an individual and whether or not you fit a company’s marketing strategy. 

Examples of such data may include device types, geolocation, IP addresses, cellular carriers, operating system, and much more. While not all apps collect all of this information, plenty have the ability to do so without much restrictions from the IOS and Android stores. 

While this may seem intrusive to some, the past has seen a significantly stronger prevalence in collecting data that was far more personal, including chats, emails, and sometimes even recordings of your voice. 

Forcing restrictions is a zero-sum game 

Without the transfer of data between companies and brokers, you would see a significant drop off in related marketing material that might best appeal to you.

Without this marketing, the likelihood of you ever discovering a product that appeals to you is significantly diminished, as are the chances that companies would invest large sums of money into targeting individuals with similar consumer behavior as you. 

While data privacy is important, both sides need to come to an agreement on what data can and will be harvested through their mobile devices. Outright banning or restricting the amount of data mining that apps could do would significantly hinder most businesses’ ability to operate strategically. 

The next time you make a purchase on the App store, ask yourself — do you see genuine value to the application you just purchased, and if so — would you truly mind an advertisement for it based on your previous purchase. 

In the end, both the companies and you want the same thing — value.

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