The Internet stores all kinds of personal information about its users, from their text messages to photos, videos, speech, and so on. Though we wish the Internet to be a safe, secure space where our data is protected from third parties all the time, the truth is that this is not the case at all. Whether it is intelligence agencies like the FBI, NSA, or CIA, or commercial companies like Netflix, Google, Facebook, etc., almost every organization is tracking everything you do online.
Last year, declassified documents from the NSA revealed that the agency had been using a speech recognition system to track down specific individuals for the past 10 years.
“The technology works by analyzing the physical and behavioral features that make each person’s voice distinctive, such as the pitch, shape of the mouth, and length of the larynx. An algorithm then creates a dynamic computer model of the individual’s vocal characteristics. This is what’s popularly referred to as a “voiceprint.” The entire process — capturing a few spoken words, turning those words into a voiceprint, and comparing that representation to other “voiceprints” already stored in the database — can happen almost instantaneously,” according to The Intercept.
What this means is that the NSA can hack into any phones or computers with microphones, turn them on, and hear your speech. It does not even need to be your device. You may be traveling on a train, surrounded by people holding their smartphones. The agency can hack those phones and use them to hear any conversation you have. China and the EU are also said to be testing out such voice tracking systems.
Another way U.S. intelligence agencies track people is through the PRISM program. This allows the NSA, CIA, and FBI to literally access an American citizen’s Internet calls, chats, and international emails without having to issue a warrant. Though the government insists that the PRISM program is used only to target foreigners, the reality is that numerous Americans also come under the purview of the PRISM program.
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act gives intelligence agencies the right to spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant. It is estimated that more than 125,000 Americans are targeted and monitored by the NSA through this law. The scary part is that the citizen need not be a person accused of any wrongdoing. Anyone who is thought to have access to information about foreign affairs can be targeted.
Netflix and other media
Popular websites like Netflix, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and other websites also spend a lot of money devising new ways of tracking users. However, unlike the NSA, the companies mostly use the collected data for monetization purposes.
In most cases, the big tech companies collect user data to understand their behaviors and provide them with relevant content or advertisements. While this does sound like a good thing, many people consider it disconcerting that corporations have access to information like browsing history, liked social media pages, comment history, shopping activity, and so on.
With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), data collection will only intensify. Over time, the data collected by several companies could be collated together to build a behavior model of a specific user. Many fear that such a development will lead to manipulation of people.