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AI Grinch

Explainers

How the AI Grinch Steals Privacy

December 22nd, 2021

The holiday shopping season is upon us, and people are increasingly turning to the Internet to find the gifts that they want for themselves, their family and their friends. With every search for the perfect present and with every purchase, people are divulging information about themselves, their family and friends to the Internet. This is a problem for several reasons.

Devices are interconnected. Our phones, tablets, laptops—they’re all linked to the profiles the Internet (or the tech firms that run it) builds about us. Because of the way the Internet tracks and affiliates people their devices and online behaviors, it’s nearly impossible to surprise family members with a gift. Several friends have shared stories with me about searching for a present for their kids only to have their kids say, “Hey, I just saw this in an ad. I want it for Christmas!”

This goes for your spouse, friends and other family members as well because the Internet knows who you know and will serve them ads for similar products based on your affiliation with those people.

Artificial intelligence & predictive analytics

Many of these connections are made through simple methods like taking your contact list from your phone and from your email. If you use voice assistant products such as Siri, Google Assist or Alexa, your conversations are being recorded and mined for information. Artificial intelligence is another tool tech companies use to build consumer profiles. Fed a steady stream of search, click, and purchase data, AI “learns” consumers’ habits and serves them ads for products they might be interested in. It’s called predictive analytics, and it’s just the tip of a worrisome iceberg.

The potential for predictive analytics to interfere with our daily lives is astonishing. The technology’s ability to comprehend individual habits, desires, thoughts, fears and concerns allows it to construct profiles with such detail and accuracy, it will seem to know you better than you know yourself. It will remember everything you ever do digitally—every second your cursor hovers over a book title, for example—in its effort to define you.

Buying presents, selling your kids’ data

The holiday shopping season is one of AI’s most abundant sources of information. Every action you take—where you shop, what you’re buying, who you’re buying for, where it’s shipping—all these criteria will be incorporated into the predictive analytics understanding of you and the people you care about. Internet tracking and affiliation make it nearly impossible to search for something privately, as your searches will trigger ads throughout your social network, revealing what you’ve been looking for.

For me one of the most unfortunate aspects about predictive analytics is that parents who are shopping for their children are creating profiles of their children before their children are able to make any determinations for themselves. AI will know whether your child is interested in fishing, gaming, soccer, music, history or any other subject. Every time you search for a present or gift for your child, that information will then be incorporated into the predictive analytics understanding—the profile—of your child’s personality. It’s totally unfair.

Children should have the opportunity to have privacy. Every time we use a digital device, we are divulging information about ourselves, our family, our friends. The profiles built with that information are being used primarily for marketing purposes for now, but those purposes could change at any time. Currently we have no control over the collection of our data. It can be gathered from anywhere on earth through an app, website or a cookie, and many companies don’t vet the entities that provide those collection services. Opportunities for disaster abound.

People should protect themselves during the holiday season and throughout the year with some type of digital spoofing mechanism like a VPN to hide their identity. With a VPN, you can easily search for your products, your interests, your concerns without feeding the artificial intelligence machine. There are very easy steps to take that people should be taking to protect themselves, family and friends.  Predictive analytics will only improve, privacy will become a nostalgic concept and the detrimental implications for future generations is tremendous.  Start protecting future generations now before it’s too late.

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