Hamster On A Wheel
gfiles|August 2019
The demand to ban TikTok and break the encryption technology of WhatsApp highlights the challenges that rapidly evolving digital technologies pose for India. The absence of data protection laws further exacerbates the problem, leaving millions of Indians vulnerable to behavioural manipulation by vested groups. Vivek Mukherji reports.
Vivek Mukherji

NEXT time you log into Facebook and click on that thumb sign to like a post or write a comment or update your status or undertake one of those silly surveys that pop up on your timeline, pause for a moment and think. You might not realise but you have voluntarily provided some more byte-sized information about yourself to some big data analytics firm in another part of the world that will be fitted into the mosaic of similar data about yourself gathered over a period of time by bots powered by Artificial Intelligence residing in the vast expanse of cyberspace to build a detailed psychographic profile of you. This is called metadata.

Then one fine day, Facebook ads or political messages of a certain persuasion start appearing on your timeline; rest assured, it’s not at all random. In fact, you have been targeted for that type of messaging. The more you consume a particular type of message, the more you will be bombarded with a similar genre of information. Like a hamster on a wheel that can’t get off, you will be providing a constant feedback loop that will keep getting bigger until you succumb to the persuasion to take action that has been shaped by the constant din of a particular genre of messages that have been appearing on your timeline over a period of time. In military parlance, it’s called psyops.

You may not be in any warzone, but you are a digital pawn in the battle of digital giants. Big tech companies that own social media platforms or develop apps will utilise your data—in other words a part of you— to rake in big money without your explicit consent. In the process, they might even succeed in tweaking or altering your behaviour towards a cause, issue or a product. This is the holy grail of consumer behaviour—a marketing maven’s or a political strategist’s wet dream.

If you believe all this is a piece of fiction or your writer’s imagination, then log of Netflix and invest 1 hr 54 minutes to watch the recently released documentary, The Great Hack. It delves deep into the investigations carried out by journalist Carole Cadwalladr for The Guardian into the dark dealings of the notorious big data analysis firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA). The now-defunct company used Facebook data to manipulate voters’ sentiments in the run-up to the 2016 US elections and Brexit referendum.

During the period CA worked on the Trump campaign, it managed to gather 5,000 data points on every American voter to bombard them with customised digital ads at an individual level. A large chunk of the ads promoting Facebook pages with racist and biased political messages, explicitly aimed at driving a wedge in the society and thereby manipulating the voter’s behaviour, were set up by Russian intelligence.

The critically acclaimed documentary raises wide-ranging and chilling questions regarding data privacy issues. Who is the rightful owner of your data? You or the companies that own these social media platforms and apps?

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM GFILESView All

RTI Act Amendment: Killing One More Institution?

The issue of RTI Act Amendment basically is: Should the truth about the arbitrary, autocratic, corrupt and opaque functioning of government and its instrumentalities be brought in the open and made accountable? When the government is killing the Information Commission it is expressing its own fear of the truth and is projecting a false image before the public.

7 mins read
gfiles
August 2019

Rob Peter To Pay Peter

PSUs were assiduously built from the blood and sweat of the taxpayers. Their sales were controversial and scandalous. Some were sold to other PSUs at high prices, they were purchased by private players at ridiculous prices, and the government used the proceeds largely to lower its looming fiscal deficits

10+ mins read
gfiles
August 2019

India Inc. In Distress

A fear psychosis has pervaded India Inc. unleashed by a mountain of bad corporate loans and a dictatorial insolvency law. Alam Srinivas explores how financial terror has gripped the country.

8 mins read
gfiles
August 2019

Hamster On A Wheel

The demand to ban TikTok and break the encryption technology of WhatsApp highlights the challenges that rapidly evolving digital technologies pose for India. The absence of data protection laws further exacerbates the problem, leaving millions of Indians vulnerable to behavioural manipulation by vested groups. Vivek Mukherji reports.

7 mins read
gfiles
August 2019

Bengal At Peril, Naturally

Bengal is staring at all round environmental disaster, from north to south. But nobody except some environmentalists is concerned

10 mins read
gfiles
August 2019

The Future of China-India Relations

China and India are rising almost simultaneously.

10+ mins read
gfiles
October 2019

Should IAS Be Discredited?

There is unspoken anguish and agony among those who came into the IAS as a mission and not mercenary service. Some of them are imploding and this could turn into explosion if not promptly addressed and remedied

8 mins read
gfiles
October 2019

Honey Trap Scandal - MP Power Elite Exposed

Shocking disclosures of a middle-aged woman’s perverted ingenuity has brought to the fore the debauched underbelly of bureaucracy and politics of Madhya Pradesh.

10+ mins read
gfiles
October 2019

Adhir Chowdhury - A Local Phenomenon On A National Stage

Adhir Chowdhury, the Congress leader in this Lok Sabha, has led a controversial life. he decimated the Left in his constituency Baharampur in Bengal and soon became a strongman of the region. Charged with a number of cases, it remains to be seen how Chowdhury fares at the national level

6 mins read
gfiles
October 2019

The New Logistics Messiah

Karnataka cadre officer N Sivasailam has been creating ripples with his no-nonsense approach to the critical logistics department. he’s the single window bureaucrat blue-pencilling the logistics matrix to take the economy to the uS$5 trillion trajectory over the next five years

6 mins read
gfiles
October 2019
RELATED STORIES

Eric Davidove – Lowrider's Community, Traditions, and Culture

This series is full of vibrancy and action and offers an off-the-cuff insight into Lowriders, one of San Francisco's subcultures.

2 mins read
Lens Magazine
August 2022

Facebook Gives TikTok the Highest Form of Flattery

The social network is overhauling itself to make it more like a rising rival, again

2 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek US
August 01, 2022

India Chops Away At Internet Freedom

Modi’s campaign against fake news and security threats is cutting off political opposition online

3 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek US
August 01, 2022

ERIC DAVIDOVE IN SEARCH OF EXCITEMENT

I am triggered by lighting conditions, the presence of intriguing shapes and forms, vibrant colors, and interesting-looking people.

2 mins read
Lens Magazine
June 2022

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

A chip off the old block

5 mins read
Maximum PC
July 2022

A HIGHER CALIBER

With Over 20 Years as a USMC Sniper and Police Officer in Los Angeles, Victor Lopez is in His Element Educating Others to Be More Effective in Austere Environments

10+ mins read
OFFGRID
Issue 50

TikTok Turns On the Money Machine

The ad revenue is already flowing, and e-commerce is next

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek US
June 27, 2022

Full Control

Security and anonymization play an increasingly important role on the Internet due to the endless appetite of Internet companies for personal data. Portmaster and the Safing Privacy Network will help you protect your privacy - even if you're not a security expert.

7 mins read
Linux Magazine
#260/July 2022: Privacy

What's Up With... Snoring

Whether it's a whistle or an air horn, here's why we do it and how to turn off the racket.

2 mins read
Prevention US
July 2022

The Journey of a LIFETIME

HEATHER MASON is a yoga therapist who has pioneered yoga and mindfulness in the healthcare sector, including for the National Health Services in the United Kingdom. Here, she is interviewed by EKTA BOUDERLIQUE of the Heartfulness Yoga Academy in the Yoga 4 Unity 2022 program.

10 mins read
Heartfulness eMagazine
June 2022