How does social media know what I am thinking?

Back in my university days, I had the privilege of learning a management theory which was of significant value later in my corporate years. It is called Johari Window for self-awareness, a technique to self-improve by knowing oneself better.  

But in recent years, I find the method is losing its appeal as the electronic gadgets around me seem to read my thoughts better!

I am sure most of you have also discovered how apps, internet and social media platforms have this uncanny knowledge of your mind.

Sometimes, it gives you a recommendation that had only crossed your mind before you even got the opportunity to speak of it! You feel caught off guard and exposed completely.

How do these websites know what I am thinking? How do they know what I intend to shop or the book I want to read?

Websites and apps often claim they offer a 'tailored experience' for their users. In most cases, if you are enjoying the 'tailored experience', it is because you may have unknowingly agreed to give them access to your innermost knowledge.

All your browsing through social media is in fact busy collecting your personal data based on your consent through different ways. It includes: 1. agreeing to privacy policies, 2. accepting cookies, 3. access to photo albums, 4. access to the microphone, and 5. access to location.

If we say no to any consent, we would not be allowed to use the app, site or platform. So, driven by our immediate needs and whims, we click on "agree" without realising how our privacy is being compromised.

But we can also outsmart them too. There are also ways to manage damage control to some extent.

For a better understanding of what is happening, check your privacy and security settings across the apps installed and all devices being used.

Some of the prominent social media sites and our own devices e.g., mobile phones, laptops and desktops have the feature to show how personal data is being tracked and used.

It also offers the option to change data preferences by restricting personalised services or turning off certain services and apps and withdrawing location access to specific apps or all apps etc.

Give location access only to specific apps like food delivery, logistics and Uber kind of apps.

At least periodically review the privacy settings and disable unnecessary cookies on your browser, and this can be done through Google Chrome, Apple Safari and Microsoft Edge etc.

In most cases, data is being collected, analysed, and monetised to sell products (online ad), influence opinions (Cambridge Analytica), give personalised experiences to drive stickiness etc. If the use of personal data is limited to the above-mentioned platforms, then it is fairly safe.

But if it is used in the wrong way by the wrong group or app, then you are in deep waters.

In our age of Artificial Intelligence, cloud computing and machine learning, the prediction tool has become so powerful that it can predict with an impressive level of accuracy what we are thinking or what we want right now.

If this trend continues, it won't be long before they start predicting what we will be thinking a few months or years down the line. If so, then who needs Johari Window!

The author is a telecom and management expert. 


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