My online privacy: why should I care?
“All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.” Gabriel García Márquez
With this distinction in mind, it’s worth examining why your personal information and online privacy is so important and why you should be more proactive in maintaining and monitoring it.
Why should you care about your online privacy?
In today’s digital age, many companies are constantly scraping data together about you: your personal details, shopping habits, taste preferences, the people you associate with, where you’ve been, how long you spend there and quite literally, hundreds of other data points. So where and how is this data being compiled to build your online persona?
The social media networks are vacuums of data gathering and persona composition. Every status update, picture upload, restaurant check-in, friend request and digital interaction adds another data point to your profile which can then be used for advertising purposes. If you want a taste of how much Facebook knows about you, you can download a copy of your personal information here. In this article, the author shows the level of information Facebook records and stores, even on people you have unfriended or on posts you’ve deleted.
Search engines like Google (and associated services like Maps) know an incredible amount of personal information about us. When we get sick we search for remedies. When we are hungry we search for food options. When we go through a break up we look for advice. When we are bored we search for entertainment options, when we are anxious we search for reasons why. All of these leave a digital trail and over time reveal who we are, what our tastes are, and what we might be interested in in future. To get a snapshot of what Google knows about you, head here to download a copy of your data.
Mobile phone carriers
You may not think you share much information with your provider, but they hold a treasure chest of information on you. With your phone in your pocket, they know where you are at any given time. They also have records of every message and call received and who the recipient was. Combined with other metadata, phone carriers know a surprising amount about us. The really scary thing though is that US carriers have been on-selling your real-time data for years. There is a thriving marketplace for data like this, as this article explains.
How is my data being used?
There is a bustling marketplace for all these data sources to be traded and sold in order to be used for a variety of reasons. The most common one is selling ads and companies will pay a high price to serve ads to the most willing predicted buyers. Sometimes personas and activity tracking are so powerful they know intimate details about us without us ever informing them, as the classic example from Target in 2012 shows. Target knew a girl was pregnant before her father did, highlighting how just a few behaviours and actions can reveal a lot more about us than intended.
At the very end of the safety spectrum, maintaining vigilance over your online persona and data reduces the chances of your accounts being hacked and having your identity stolen. Mat Honing, a Wired journalist, found this out the hard way when his entire digital life was hacked and he had to go through the pain of resetting and restoring every account.
Hopefully we’ve shown you the importance of your online privacy and persona. It is important to ensure you’re in control of your data and only share it only when you choose to share it.
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