The Internet, Big Tech, Social Media...Privacy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by Dessi on April 24, 2020

A woman working and socializing online at her desk.

Most of us are spending an increasing about of time on the internet these days, stuck at home we have shifted our lives online working through Zoom calls, reaching out to friends and family through previously unheard apps such as house party, and even though we won't admit it stealing a glance or two at Tik Tok. Even a decade ago, this would not have been possible and for that we are grateful, but our life online comes with new considerations.

As online privacy, security, zoom-bombing are words quickly entering into the corona era vernacular, here are our guidelines on how you can feel more secure without compromising the benefits of continuing a physically distant, although active virtual life.

First to review what has recently been in the press:

Internet Usage & “Zoom Bombing”

Internet usage both on laptops and mobile devices has increased with companies such as Netflix and Youtube showing up to 15% increase in web traffic, and newcomers such as Zoom seeing an 151% increase YOY and House Party a 75% increase in activity; we are all online a lot more. Zoom has recently been in the press over privacy and security concerns where hackers are “zoom-bombing” - essentially playing pranks on audience members; displaying inappropriate images or trying to overload the system. The company has also been criticized for routing bandwidth through servers in China, concerning business about security risks. Zoom has announced a freeze on new features to focus on rolling out security updates and has already put in place password protected meetings and an opt-in policy on routing traffic through China.

All eyes seem to be on Zoom right now, but the platform is one example of many others that may leave your data vulnerable. Further highlighting this, is that hackers were able to gain access to Zoom accounts not through breaching the system, but using previously compromised emails to see if they were able to get in.

Big Tech: Apple and Google to enable contact tracing

Apple and Google have teamed up to use cell phone data to track interactions and notify people if they have been in close proximity with someone with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. Rather than using location data, your phone will track nearby bluetooth connections with other mobile devices and rely on users to indicate if they have tested positive to notify others. The data should be made available via API to public health services in the coming weeks. Both Apple and Google are committed to user privacy and security and the features will require opt-ins from users.

Fake news & social media beyond the sourdough starter

Social media isn’t a bad thing, how else would we know that it’s time to feed our sourdough starter or to make banana bread? As trends and memes spread, so does information and as a society we need to be diligent about understanding sources and not spreading uncredited information. Meanwhile companies are working to highlight fake news, Facebook is notifying people when they like a post that isn’t credible and Google News has launched a “fact check” section which identifies articles that include information fact checked by news publishers and fact-checking organizations.

Here's what actions you can start to take to better protect yourself and your families:

Think about what you do online, set your guidelines

Now more than ever your online privacy and security should be something you think about, it's not about limiting yourself but acknowledging what level of risk you are willing to take. It's unfair to deny ourselves connection through apps such as House Party or Scribbage, but take a couple minutes to check the privacy settings, limit data sharing to only what is necessary. Facebook can track your online activity on other sites as well as offline activity. Logout of your account after you’ve finished your session – ideally use Facebook in a separate browser. Only open links from people and sites you trust.

Keep track of new accounts

Keep track of all the new accounts you sign up for (same with those your kids are signing up for!) and always use a newly generated password. Once restrictions are lifted, do an audit of your accounts and delete any you no longer plan on using. Under GDPR and CCPA you can request all of your data to be deleted.

Be conscious of what you share and post online

Remember that what we post and share isn’t owned by us can be stored, accessed, and even sold for decades to come. Think about what you are sharing and be careful about any messages or pictures that could potentially harm you in an upcoming job search or otherwise. Also be aware that people can screenshot pictures of you or what you share during meetings, when screen-sharing, only share the required window and not your whole desktop. Double check the status of your microphone and camera when you dial into a meeting. Use a camera cover if necessary.We’ll even send the first 10 respondents to email a branded webcam cover!

How can help

It is important to ensure you’re in control of your data and share it only when you choose are in control.

If you want more guidance on how to manage your privacy, join and get access to our extensive Privacy settings walkthroughs, persona building and social media clean up tools. All backed by our transparent satisfaction guarantee and support from our expert team.