How digital technology is eroding our privacy

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Sabrina Almeida

An NBC News report recently revealed that for years Facebook had explored plans to sell user data to consolidate its presence. Big spenders and partners such as Amazon, Netflix and Spotify were alleged to have been given access to users’ personal information without their permission. Of course, the social network denied that it gave preferential access to private messages based on a company’s ad spend or relationship with executives… while cutting off competitors.

Makes you angry that your personal information is being used as a bargaining chip to further business interests, doesn’t it? Or when your account information or credit card is compromised…
Facebook, Bell Canada, Marriott Hotels, Petro-Points, PC Optimum, etc. have all fallen victim to hackers in the past couple of years much to the horror of their users. After all, you trust them to protect your data!
However, not many of us realize our privacy is being eroded on a daily basis as social media, apps and business websites record online activity. What’s more we’re doing this willingly just to save a few minutes.

Honestly, how aware are you of what you are signing up for? I wasn’t till a few months ago!

It’s ironic that anyone standing too close in the lineup at the cashier or while punching in the code for a credit card is likely to get the death stare for violating our personal space. Yet we don’t mind apps, e-commerce and social media sites recording our every move. Virtually every web-based service wants to track your location and remember your password—supposedly to provide you with a faster and better response. Good thing? Maybe not!!!

If you think it’s cool that Amazon or Google remembers your browsing history, remember the old adage that you have to give a little to get a little! The truth is that we are giving a lot by allowing our online activities to be tracked and saved. Worse still this digital fingerprint can never be erased only hidden from sight, perhaps.

While we are mostly ignorant of how the data is being used or more likely misused, the almost immediate and seemingly harmless repercussion is targeted advertising. For example, I was searching for images for a Sotheby exhibition for a news story and see pop ups for the auction house ever since. Hilarious, because it is way out of my league. Perhaps my Amazon browsing history can rectify that.

The smartphone is more of a hazard than a convenience in this respect. Your entire life is up for grabs. Right from your location, phone number and contacts to your driving routes, shopping habits and social circle. It spooked me when my iPhone showed me the shortest route home at 5 pm everyday without me touching the device. And it gives me an eerie feeling when friends who have passed away are waving at me on Facebook!

The fact that we can never really breakaway makes me very uneasy.

Experts warn that disabling tracking functions or deleting the app may not reduce your vulnerability. You might actually have to change your phone.

The simplest way to reduce privacy breaches is to limit our exposure. Meaning to minimize the number of apps we use as well as the tracking and ‘remember me’ functions.

Laziness has a big a price to pay. Even the smartest fall victim to it. A friend, for instance, still has her banking password saved by Google, despite her account being breached.

Moreover, does everyone really need to know that your family is going to France on a holiday? Don’t be surprised then if your home gets broken into while you trace your vacation spots on Facebook for all to see!!!

It’s a good practice to review privacy settings every few months and change passwords. Never reuse the same one for multiple accounts.

We must also be careful about what we share online, especially with regards to our kids and families. Photos with names, school uniforms and team jerseys as well as birthdays should be avoided as this personal information could end up in the wrong hands. Make it a point to have a conversation about this with family and friends who are likely to post photos of events as well.

Do you really have to list your birthday on Facebook? It increases the risk of identity theft. Isn’t it more gratifying when friends wish you because they remembered rather than because they received a social media notification?

Perhaps the easiest way to protect privacy is to spend less time on our smartphones recording and sharing every minute of our lives. Why not just enjoy them instead? For one, it’s less likely to comeback and bite us! -CINEWS

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