In this multi-channel, multi-device world, getting access to user’s data has become really simple. Companies collect data from different sources and use it for various purposes. The fact is many of us know that our data is being collected through various mediums but very few of us really understand how our data is being used.
Google Inc updated its terms of service in April this year, informing users that their incoming and outgoing emails are automatically analyzed by software to create targeted ads.
According to Google, “People who use web-based email today should not be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS [electronic communications service] provider in the course of delivery.”
Google’s updated terms of service added a paragraph stating that “our automated systems analyze user’s content (including emails) to provide them personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”
Fact is, the free web- based email services that we use actually are not really free, they provide us with their services and in return acquire full access to everything we send, receive and save using it. It is only free if you place no value on our data.
So the question is, are these services sharing our data with third parties and then are those parties using our data according to their requirements. And if Web services are tracking our data, then don’t we want to know how they are using it?
These web services do reveal that they are collecting user’s data and they are using all of this information for various purposes. However, they are not revealing its use.
A research project “XRay Transparency for the Web” by Mathias Lecuyer is said to be the first tool for revealing personal data use on the Web. It reveals which specific data inputs (such as emails) are used to target which outputs (such as ads).
The current XRay prototype works with Gmail, YouTube, and Amazon. It can correlate ads in Gmail to the emails they target, and recommendations in YouTube and Amazon based on previously viewed videos and products, respectively.