Online privacy during the coronavirus lockdown

Written by Jonathon on April 7, 2020

Three corporate professionals on a video conference call

During these trying times, the team at yourself.online hopes that everyone is staying safe, looking after their loved ones and keeping spirits high.

Coronavirus has changed the landscape for work and socializing. During these unprecedented times, digital tools and services for networking, teaching, collaborating and entertaining are thriving. Zoom is the clear market leader for video conferencing, Houseparty has attracted millions to hangout virtually, Twitch allows gamers from all over the world to compete, and nutritional apps like Zoe are branching out to help track the spread of corona symptoms.

There are also a plethora of services to keep the kids entertained. YouTube and Netflix both have specific kid-friendly offerings, Disney+ has just launched with an enviable back-catalog of entertainment, and online learning platforms like Udemy and Khan Academy keep the learning going outside the physical classroom.

As a privacy-focussed company, we here at yourself.online feel compelled to highlight some areas to watch out for with some of the above services.

Houseparty, for instance, includes this in their T&Cs:

You agree that Life on Air is free to use the content of any communications submitted by you via the Services, including any ideas, inventions, concepts, techniques, or know-how disclosed therein, for any purpose including developing, manufacturing, and/or marketing goods or Services. We will not release your name or otherwise publicize the fact that you submitted materials or other information to us unless: (a) you grant us permission to do so; (b) we first send notice to you that the materials or other information you submit to a particular part of a Service will be published or otherwise used with your name on it; or (c) we are required to do so by law.

As a free service, Houseparty is allowing itself the freedom to read any content produced within the app and also allow itself to sell user data to third parties. The Comparitech website does a great job of explaining this in greater detail.

Zoom also reduces your privacy, with features such as employer notifications about employees on a call but doing other tasks instead, like sending an email. To do this, Zoom monitors your computer to see which programs are running and which ones you are focusing on the most. Whilst it doesn’t sell your data to third parties, it does allow companies like Google to view the data for marketing purposes, and even shares certain information with Facebook, regardless of whether the user has a Facebook account or not. This fantastic article from VPNOverview explains it in greater detail.

YouTube Kids is Google’s dedicated kid-friendly platform, with parental controls and curated content. These measures have not stopped it being accused of breaking children data protection laws in the past. It pays to be mindful when allowing your kids on your devices and what data they may be inadvertently sharing with big tech companies.

It is undoubtedly great that we have access to such products and services, especially given the current circumstances, but we believe users should have their eyes open to the privacy implications of using them. As is often the case, if a service is offered to you free, then you are likely the product and being monetized in some fashion. It is then up to you to decide if that trade off is worthwhile.

For a more comprehensive look at your online privacy and digital footprint, head to yourself.online and sign up for an account today. We have in-depth user privacy guides for major digital products and services and an array of tools to manage your online persona.