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The privacy paradox

What is the privacy paradox?

When I was much younger; (much younger), privacy was all about spending time alone. How times have changed – in today’s world, privacy is less about being alone and more about protecting your identity and information.

As we’re all so concerned about protecting our personal data, I often wonder why we regularly give it away to apps, marketers, social media and websites? That’s the privacy paradox – and it’s up to you to tackle it.

I believe that everyone should have the tools to make their own decisions about their online privacy and who collects data on them.

Firefox browser.

Mozilla lightbeam pluginPart of Firefox’s addons is the Lightbeam browser. This add-on offers an interactive visualization of the sites you visit and reveals the hidden third parties who track your activity online.

Try it, turn it on for a day, go about your online business, and discover the dozens (or hundreds maybe thousands?) of data miners on your trail. It’s an experience that may change your view of privacy forever.

What does your phone know about you? What can you do about it?

Just in case you’ve ever wondered what that hand held device actually does, the answer is simple – it supplies metadata via the apps installed on it. Pressumably you’re comfortable with this, and ‘so what?‘ I wonder how much of this information you’d actually reveal to anyone other than a relative or even a close friend?

Here’s what’s actually being captured – where you went, who you spoke with, what you read and what you looked at, it’s extremely personal data (metadata). It shows who we’re close to, what we’re interested in, what we search for, our hopes, fears, where we go to, where we live and who we spend our time with.

Many of your apps track your location even when you’re not using them. Others listen in via your microphone when you’re not talking to them. So tell us, just how comfortable do you feel now?

The search for your identity.

All of this information is captured and used, often put into databases which are used to profile us, without us being conscienciously aware of this fact. Algorithms then determine how they see us, sell us, and then sell to us. It’s all a bit ‘1984,’ and whilst in the short term all seems well, longer term this can be very divisive of society as a whole.

Something to hide.

In the past, stories and photo’s were shared by friends and family, and were quickly forgotten. Unfortunately that’s no longer true. Try searching for yourself on Google, what you’ll find is a long list of information going back years, and that’s the paradox, it’s there forevever. When Google first started out, it didn’t envisage requests to have information deleted, yet that’s the situation that they now occassionally find themselves in.

You can delete your social media profiles, but if a post or a picture has been shared, then who knows where it has ended up? You simply can’t erase digital memories.

Tag a friend in a photo? Well most people we meet do so. Facebook uses facial recognition so that it can recognise you on other people’s posts, which is why you’ll see ‘connect to – Joe Bloggs’ because it recognises your picture on someone elses timeline.

Facebook nett worth is currently $350 million and rapidly heading towards $1 trillion simply because the app gathers all of your metadata. It’s metadata that has a value to marketers, insurers, financial institutions, and this accounts for Facebook’s market value. It’s a small price to pay for giving your a platform on which to share your memories, thoughts, holidays, aspirations… so think before you post, tag friends or provide your location.

Your personal terms of Service

The problem is that most of your data is stuck in a silo. All of your facebook, linkedin, web search data are stored in silo’s. Governments (like our own in the UK) wants to have access to it, holding on to it ‘just in case‘ it ever needs it.

Not convinced – let’s consider the UK’s latest Investigative powers bill, which states:

“any click anybody makes on the web should be stored for a year.”

So before you download an app, search the web, or post to social media, ask yourself just who’s actually going to see my information and to what purpose is it to be employed?

One final thought

facebook locationWho else might be interested in using your personal data?

Scammers, Phishers and Theives increasingly trawl the web to obtain your personal detail from apps such as facebook and twitter to name two amongst many others. Twitter can be used to locate your position in real time, almost to the nearest metre, and many post their location with a time stamp on facebook (see image to the left).

So we urge to to make an informed decision when considering whether you allow applications access to your location. We always suggest turning off location permissions to these applications on any internet enabled mobile device.