Think Facebook is the only company watching you? Think again.
Now, I want to brighten the mood and tell you that everyone is capable of using your information to tweak how you engage with their app.
If you want to see for yourself, take a look at some of the tools already being used. There are multiple software development kits (SDKs) and software as a service (SaaS) products that are built for optimizing the social and user experience.
You’re Being Watched
There are SDKs such as that can record your screen while you’re using a certain app. The video gets sent to the server, and then the app makers can see how you use the app in real-time. This means someone could be watching your every move on your phone, and then perhaps using that information to create a more personalized experience on their app.
Someone could be watching your every move on your phone.
There are also more commercially available SaaS products such as that monitor mass amounts of user sessions on websites and provide their clients with heat maps describing the most active portions of every page.
When you open an app, it could check all your pertinent details like your IP address, device ID, GPS location, and email in order to create a match with an identity, often linked to a fingerprint.
These companies can then track your behavior within the app, including interests, demographics, preferences, and purchases. All of this data is shared with every other app that uses the SDK. This makes it possible for anyone using the SDK to purchase a bunch of data about your behavior from every other app using it from the second you download it.
You’re Up For Sale
If those tools aren’t enough to give companies information and insight into how you interact with their products, there are businesses that essentially package and sell your data to the highest bidder.
Countless startups buy and sell lists of user information to companies to help them refine their ad targeting and user experience.
Of course, this information is anonymized. For example, WeWork can’t buy Troy Osinoff’s data, but they can buy the data of “29-year-old in New York City who likes the New York Knicks.”
It’s not all bad. The use of the tools and services can help greatly improve the user experience across the board. If you’ve ever wondered why many popular apps have an incredibly intuitive user experience, it’s because the interface is built upon millions of user interactions with the site.
On the flip-side, many people rightfully feel a bit creeped out that hundreds of companies may or may not know everything about them, from how long it takes them to hit “Add to cart” or whether or not they liked a certain embarrassing Facebook Page in high school.
The Bad … and the Good
While the internet’s power is almighty, businesses studying us like lab rats isn’t anything new.
Grocery stores, for example, have a . They know the majority of people are likely to turn to the right when they walk in, so grocery stores place the more attractive and sensory things such as hot foods, bakery (who can resist the cookies), and visually stimulating fresh produce right there.
All the things you actually need (eggs, milk, frozen meats) all seem to be tucked away in some obscure corner in the back left. That’s so people can trek around the entire store and buy more things before finally getting what they actually came for.
The Internet allows for much more fluid and rapid testing.
Now take the same concept, and apply to the wild wild Interwebs. The Internet allows for much more fluid and rapid testing, and the user experiences can greatly improve over a matter of weeks.
Instead of looking at video footage to monitor foot traffic and weekly purchases, Internet companies can look at thousands of interactions a second with pointed statistics hinting at virtually any pattern. Most Internet companies don’t even need to do their own testing since they can just purchase the data from somewhere else.
Internet companies have an eerily accurate understanding of everything about us. What they choose to do with it has been a hotbed of discussion for years. We’ve definitely got our fair share of good actors and bad actors, and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to tell who’s who.
Troy Osinoff is the co-founder of JUICE, a full service digital agency that helps build businesses and create lasting impressions.