The importance of online privacy

Online privacy is a topic that is often misunderstood. Many people believe that since they are not involved in doing anything wrong that there is nothing to hide and therefore online privacy is not an important issue. However, online privacy is more about service providers profiling you, including your likes, dislikes, habits, beliefs and beyond, so that you can be the target of advertising, misinformation, and beyond. Ultimately, service providers you have trusted use your information to generate revenue. Who knows where it all goes from here and perhaps one day that profile intersects with insurance companies, healthcare providers, employers, and government if it hasn’t already.

Everywhere you travel, every move you make, the nuance of your writing, emails, phone conversations, essentially everything you do, is being logged and analyzed through artificial intelligence with the aim of monetizing the information. We are all subjected to a conglomerate of big tech company experiments. While corporate attorneys may have written language in their terms of use agreements for the applications or services we use, explaining how your information may be used, most of us never bother to read or consider the impacts of misuse.

We are barraged by privacy statements with many sites now asking you to accept their use of cookies and privacy policies.  Here is one of note:

“YouTube Privacy Warning”

“YouTube (owned by Google) does not let you watch videos anonymously. As such, watching videos here will be tracked by YouTube/Google.”

Have you ever turned off location services for Apple Maps 0n your iPhone only to have it tell you later that your car is parked 150 feet away? Did you know that Alexa has features that allow it to listen and record private conversations and forward them on to contacts? Do you know when Alexa is listening or any other “smart” devices? Have you ever had Siri speak to you when you weren’t talking to her? The point is we don’t know how a lot of the technology works and what happens with the associated data. Have we invited devices into our homes and businesses naively thinking they’d help without considering adverse consequences? How often do you see advertisements for products that you were viewing online elsewhere being presented to you as an advertisement on social media or another website?

Big tech is doing its best to monetize your private information by either directly targeting you with adds, or through the sale of your private information to other data mining companies. Google now buys credit card data so they can better understand your purchasing habits to better target adds and know when you bought an item after an advertisement was presented. Online marketing campaign metrics have become very precise.

So still, why care about privacy? The Cambridge Analytica scandal speaks for itself where a vast amount of personal information was provided by Facebook and shared with Cambridge Analytica who exploited the information for political purposes during 2016, targeting profiled potential voters with disinformation in attempt to get them to vote a particular way. This was business as usual for Cambridge Analytica who had been helping politicos win elections throughout the world with its tactics. Weaponizing personal information is clearly crossing the line.

The free services model being provided by companies like Google and Facebook are at the heart of the problem where services like email and social platforms are provided in exchange for users personal information being collected, analyzed and eventually monetized. Unfortunately our representatives are underwhelming in there knowledge of and response to the problem. This was demonstrated during a 2018 US Senate hearing where senators asked questions of Facebook’s CEO such as how do you make money. Between lobbyist and uninformed representatives we have little hope in solving the core issues in the near term.

So how can you begin to protect yourself? 

  • For starters take care in how you utilize online platforms such as Facebook and other social media applications. The questionnaires that your network routinely share that seem harmless are utilized to directly profile you and may be later used against you in the form of advertising and disinformation campaigns.
  • Use Internet Security Software that blocks website tracking by web analytics, ad agencies, behavior trackers and social networks.
  • Consider utilizing VPN services that can enable you to browse anonymously and encrypt your data end to end, so that your activity is not tracked by your Internet Service Provider nor intercepted by prying eyes.
  • Utilize web browsers, email platforms, search engines and internet security software, or services who have stated missions to support your privacy.
  • Some names that come to mind are Mozilla, Proton, DuckDuckGo, among others.

Network Management Solutions has been helping business navigate technology challenges since 1996. Please contact us for a free, confidential assessment. We can be reached at 908-232-0100 or on the web at www.nmscorp.com

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