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How Does Data Collection Lead To Misinformation?

We use the internet every day to work, learn, and socialize. Thus, the question of privacy inevitably arises. Indeed, if it is such a big part of our lives, where and how is all of our information stored?

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Companies and platforms have been profiting from personal data storage since ‌the advent of the internet in the 2000’s. Organizations sell user data for advertising, even with new laws like the Digital Services Act.

Instagram, for instance, sells 79% of its users’ data, including their location and spending habits.

This article will explain how companies collect user data and examine the ethical concerns related to data manipulation.


Data collection and tracking


Data can be collected in two ways: directly through surveys, interviews, and forms, or indirectly. The latter includes methods such as transactional or online tracking, social media monitoring, and observation. Tracking data indirectly often implies the use of cookies or pixels. However, 97% of people between the ages of 18 and 34 do not read the terms and conditions of those cookies when gaining access to a platform or website. Therefore, by accepting, they might be allowing their IP address, location, or phone number to be sold every day. This will most likely lead to targeted ads but, more importantly, to dishonest people accessing their data, making them more prone to hacking or malware. As a consumer, there are ways to avoid this: install a VPN or use a trackless browser like DuckDuckGo. Nonetheless, these options are not always viable. For example, when doing extensive research, a browser with good results is required. At work, certain companies require employees to use Google platforms such as Google Drive. Today, it is almost impossible to completely cut off all tracking platforms without going rogue. It is thus up to companies to find ways to collect data that is both equitable and respectful of users' privacy, while still making a profit. Despite this fine line between ethicality and profit, some companies decide to test it.


Elon Musk Lawsuit


Elon Musk is suing the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) for reporting a rise in hateful content and misinformation since Musk’s acquisition of X Corp (formerly Twitter) in October 2022. Musk denies the allegation and claims that the CCDH “cherry picked” posts to create a misleading narrative. As a result, the CCDH is urging companies to stop advertising on X. On the one hand, the CCDH reported the platform to counter online hate as part of their broader mission as an organization. On the other hand, X Corp is suing for a loss of profit. Given that X Corp is a $15 billion company, the non-profit organization will most likely lose the lawsuit. In that case, the CCDH will have to shut down, resulting in less security on the internet. This is based on the premise that the CCDH’s work is effective, despite the lack of accessible data that quantifies the CCDH’s efficiency.


Although X Corp will most likely win the lawsuit, it does not change the fact that the company lost advertisers at the cost of user equity. X Corp shows that prioritizing profit has the opposite intended effect.

Platforms have the power to manipulate data in a way that skews our convictions. It should be up to the user to choose the content they consume, not an algorithm.

It is by limiting versatility of thought that events like the Capitol Attack in 2021 happen. To clarify, censorship is not a solution to preventing tragic events. Humanity has and will continue to commit crimes. I advocate for the diversification of media, so everyone can access various opinions without getting fixated on one. Algorithms should do so, perhaps by limiting the number of posts pertaining to a subject. I believe this is especially important for social media companies as in 2022, a quarter of adults in the U.S. said they got their news from YouTube. In the meantime, consumers should be made aware of methods to counter this.


To conclude


To avoid misinformation, there are some things you can do: diversify your sources of information and consider changing your browser to avoid recommender systems, ensure that you provide the least amount of information when accepting cookies, and read the terms and conditions.

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