“Data Harvesting”

Media Alert!

November 2022

Blog #37

Sue Summers


“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 NIV)

“Data Harvesting”

Computer use and Internet access are part of our daily lives, at work, home, and school. Data harvesting refers to extracting information from an online source. This data can then be used for marketing or research or any other purpose.

We willingly give up our personal information in exchange for convenience and access. Most people pay little attention to potential privacy concerns that can develop from nefarious uses of data.

“Cookies” are used by websites to track visitors and their preferences.

“Cookies are small files sent to your browser from websites you visit. These files track and monitor the sites you visit and the items you click on these pages… When you visit any website, it will store at least one cookie — a first-party cookie — on your browser. This cookie remembers your basic activity on the site and doesn’t track your information when you visit other sites.
Many sites, though, store third-party cookies on your browser, too. These cookies allow social media companies, advertisers, and other website operators to track your browsing and online activity at other sites. If you want to boost your online privacy, it makes sense to block these third-party cookies.” (https://us.norton.com/blog/how-to/what-are-cookies#)

Data harvesting is about more than just visiting web sites. GPS (Global Positioning System) is a common term in our vernacular. This location tracking system is in our cell phones, Apple watches, Fitbits, and newer model cars. “GPS is a system of 30+ navigation satellites circling Earth. We know where they are because they constantly send out signals. A GPS receiver in your phone listens for these signals. Once the receiver calculates its distance from four or more GPS satellites, it can figure out where you are.” (https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/gps/en) This is a wonderful tool that allows navigation and driving directions to be part of our daily lives. However, not all its uses are benign.  It also allows governmental agencies — and perhaps others — to track our location at any given time.

And there’s more… The magnetic strips on our credit cards, drivers’ licenses, and ID badges are embedded with personal information. With a magnetic stripe reader, available on Amazon and elsewhere, this information is easily accessed by anyone. “Mag stripe swipe technology” and credit card skimmers are devices that thieves can attach to credit card readers on gas pumps and ATMs in order to steal credit card information. “Cybercriminals focus on the low hanging fruit — the older institutions, the smaller, community banks that don’t have funds to spend on secure doors, cameras, and the latest ATM security measures. But that is typical across the entire spectrum of cybersecurity. Thieves always aim for the easiest targets.” (www.atm-link.com/blog/card-skimmers-are-targeting-gas-stations-and-older-atms)

Surveillance cameras are ubiquitous. One example is the Ring video doorbell system which adds a layer of security between the outdoors and home. But surveillance cameras are not just at front doors.

“New technologies have given governments around the world unprecedented means to collect and access personal information. This includes law enforcement agencies demanding content from tech companies, intelligence agencies tapping directly into internet cables, and the use of surveillance technologies such as license plate readers or facial recognition cameras.” (https://cdt.org/area-of-focus/government-surveillance)

Who doesn’t love a good “app”? “Apps” are free or inexpensive applications for our phones, computers, smart TVs, smart watches, and tablets. The “free” part is a trade-off, as we trade our personal information in exchange for a game or software program.

“Facebook (FB) has been accused of illegally harvesting the biometric data of over 100 million Instagram users in new legal proceedings issued in California. The lawsuit… alleges that the photo-sharing app has collected, stored, and profited from the data of the users without their knowledge or consent… Personal information and behavior on social media have commercial, political and research value.” (www.yahoo.com/news)

Consider Instagram, Zoom, Skype, Snapchat, Spotify — all very popular apps. But what about TikTok?

“Enwrapped in millions of comedic, cute, and catchy little videos, TikTok has slipped in deftly under our defenses and found a home behind America’s security walls. It is a free, easy-to-use, app taking the world by storm, one naive user at a time. It was the most popular iPhone app download in 2021 and the most popular overall app downloaded globally in 2020 and 2021. There are over 78.7 million U.S. users, with a projected 90 million users in 2023.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, one of China’s most valuable private companies. As an app, its lofty mission — it calls itself ‘the leading destination for short-form mobile videos with a mission to inspire creativity and bring joy’ — seems quite benign. But that belies its corporate character. Most private companies in China come under direct or indirect control of the Chinese government, which is notoriously secretive and opaque on ownership and operational details… Download the app on your smartphone and you have given China access to all your data — very sinister.” (https://thehill.com/opinion/technology/3694346-tiktok-is-chinas-trojan-horse)

Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has stated, “Whoever controls data has the upper hand.”

Within our own government, NSA collects data, too.

“The National Security Agency (NSA) is a national-level intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense, under the authority of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The NSA is responsible for global monitoring, collection, and processing of information and data for foreign and domestic intelligence and counterintelligence purposes, specializing in a discipline known as signals intelligence (SIGINT). The NSA is also tasked with the protection of U.S. communications networks and information systems. The NSA relies on a variety of measures to accomplish its mission, the majority of which are clandestine.” (https://en.wikipedia.org)

Most of the time, we are oblivious to the immense amount of privacy we willingly relinquish. We think that:

• surveillance cameras equal increased safety,

• data collection is harmless,

• free apps make life more interactive and fun,

• shopping online is convenient,

• the GPS allows us to travel more effectively,

• social media enhance communication and relationships,

• cookies make surfing easier, and

• NSA is our government protecting us.

Of course, technology is neither good nor evil. It depends on how it is applied and the integrity and morality of its developer or user. Data harvesting is here to stay. With increasing technological advances, it is obvious that our privacy will continue to be compromised. It is harder and harder to be “off the grid”.

So how can we help teens become media-savvy about the culture that surrounds them?

Have meaningful dialogue with teens. It isn’t about preaching or nagging – it’s about discussion. With respect and interaction, adults can stimulate deeper thinking in teens. Here are some discussion starters:

• Ask, “What apps do you have on your phone, Fitbit, or tablet? Which is your favorite? Why? Have any of the apps you have ever brought harm to you?”

• Ask, “How do you think software companies, that create and make apps at no cost, make their money?”

• Share: “Data harvesting refers to extracting information from an online source.” Ask, “Do you think it is moral for websites and apps to collect information about you?”

• Share: “Across China, a network of 176 million surveillance cameras, expected to soon grow to 626 million, keeps watch on the country’s over 1.3 billion citizens.” Ask, “What are the positive and negative elements about government monitoring?”

• Share: “GPS is helpful software that allows us to reach our destinations with greater ease and more efficiency.” Ask, “Does it concern you that your movements can be tracked without your knowledge?”

Ask, “Why do you think TikTok is so popular? Do you know that it was created by a Chinese company that is able to capture information about users? This information is then made available to the People’s Republic of China. China’s President, Xi Jinping, has said, “Whoever controls data has the upper hand.”  Is this a concern for you?”

• Ask, “Why is privacy valuable?”

• Share: “Of course technology can be used for good or for evil. We don’t have to be for or against technology. Jesus said, ‘Don’t be hypercritical; use your head — and heart! — to discern what is right, to test what is authentically right.’ (John 7, 24, The Message) How can we get better at using our head and heart?”

Note: Share this blog with your church’s youth pastor as a lesson for youth group gatherings.


Sue Summers is a Christian media analyst, teacher, author, and speaker.

Contact info:

Blogs: http://www.MediaSavvyKids.org

Website: http://www.MediaAlert.org

Email: Sue@MediaAlert.org

#MediaSavvyKids, #ChristianParenting, #ChurchAndCulture, #YouthPastors, #YouthGroupCurriculum, #HelpForChristianParents, #TeensAndCulture, #AChangingCulture, #CriticalThinkingAndTeens, #IAmNotDefinedByTheCulture, #PrivacyIssues, #DataHarvesting, #SurveillanceOfCitizens, #Technology-GoodOrEvil

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© Sue Summers 2022

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