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How Private is Your Private Life: The Case For Online Privacy

Dianna Labrien, Freelance Writer and Content Strategist, @DiLabrien

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It's time to admit this - technology is terrible at keeping secrets.

The Ashley Madison case when billions of private user's names, addresses, and credit card data were exposed gave a massive kick to the already burgeoning online privacy concerns. Anonymous social messaging apps are on the verge of popularity both among teens and millennial users; a lot of shoppers name gift cards and virtual cards as the safest methods of online purchases. In fact, the vast majority of users state that they don't want websites or any online service providers to collect their personal data at all:

While the global legislators are now actively developing and adopting new laws regulating the individual's online private life and the types of data applicable for collection, there's still a lot of gray areas left to be properly addressed.

Geo-Location Apps Snooping On Your Location More Than You Think

A recent study conducted by Carnegie Mellon discovered that mobile apps tend to ping our locations thousands of times per week without our direct permission. In fact, during the course of 14 days, the study's participants tracked over 5.000 pings from different apps on their phones.

While certainly, this is absolutely justifiable for navigation apps or Pokemon Go for the matter, but why do flashlights or digital bible apps need to know your location?

Obviously, this kind of sensitive data is later transferred to 3rd party advertisers and used to pitch you custom sales offers – that exactly where the "creep factor" rolls. How do you feel when you are heading to a shop to make a purchase when suddenly you get into the geofence of another store – your phone pings and you get a discount deal for the product you are planning to buy?

Currently, that's one of the most massive problems with unregulated location-based marketing.

Data Collection at The Governmental Scale

While we all know that Facebook, Google, and other social networks regularly scoop and collect our personal data, governmental agencies are often guilty of acting the same way. NSA have already been accused of using a backdoor program named MUSCULAR to gain access to international cables and overseas data centers of Yahoo and Google.

Big data algorithms have enabled anyone with respective hardware to trawl massive databases to profiles or discover individuals or groups based on their certain online behavioral patterns. While this technology is mainly used for counterterrorism measures and operations, the level of actual surveillance is rather impressive if you give it a bigger thought.

Sensitive Data Accessible To Anyone

In fact, tracking down your personal information and public records is easier than ever for pretty much anyone – from your potential employer to a new date. Take CheckThem's tool, for example – a public record data crawler, which offers anyone a quick access to tons of seemingly private data like marriage/divorce records, property ownership, civil and lawsuit records and a lot of other sensitive information, which is usually retrieved during a professional background check.

Today 72% of Americans consider that the data collected on them by companies can potentially harm them, and 40% admit that they have no control over what the company knows about them – take the notorious Target pregnancy case as an example.

How Do You Keep Your Private Data Safe Online After All?

Quitting Facebook and stop using online websites isn't an option. However, we cannot completely control or forbid the access to our personal data (especially when we even don't know that it's being collected). Here are a few essential measures you may want to implement (apart from taping over your laptop camera and mic like Zuckerberg does):
  • Try using cookie management software and infomedia diaries to keep a better track of collected data.
  • Keep your hard drive data encrypted as it offers data protection both from online and physical hazards.
  • Use anonymous browser modes if you want to escape from online tracking or special browser add-ons like Ghostery.
  • You might want to consider switching to an alternative search engine like DuckDuckGo or more anonymous browsers like Tor.
  • When registering at some shady looking or untrustworthy websites, mask your email address and identity with Blur app. Paid plans also allow you to mask your credit card number, passwords, and phone number.

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