In the third decade of the 21st century, it is abundantly clear that many online activities represent a significant threat to privacy.
Many experts note that surveillance capitalism, as dubbed by Professor Shoshana Zuboff, has risen to become the dominant economic system of our times. In this system, commodifying personal user data serves as a profit-driving engine; helping users is a mere byproduct of data-hungry services.
From well-known tech giants and their finely tuned social media algorithms to apps that threaten users’ privacy, how we conduct ourselves online and the digital products we engage with can dramatically impact our privacy.
Let’s look closely at common online activities that may compromise your e-privacy.
Using the many common (and popular) apps that leverage your data for financial gain
Some popular apps can put your privacy at risk. Because of their popularity, we may overlook these concerns, but they do exist. Recently, Grindr (found to be sharing users’ HIV status with third parties without the users’ consent), and even the most innocuous of apps – coffee shop loyalty programs.
Starbucks, for instance, came under fire recently when it revealed that its app was storing user data, including email addresses and passwords, under an insecure security protocol. Instagram has also come under fire in the past.
Here are some of the most common problems with apps when it comes to your privacy:
- Apps can share your data with third parties without telling you.
- Apps can show ads based on location tracking or other data collection forms.
- Apps can sell your data to ad networks or analytics companies that use it for marketing purposes.
These issues aren’t always avoidable, but here’s what you can do:
- Check the app’s track record to see if it has been compromised or previously involved in data selling.
- Check your permissions to see if you are allowing apps to collect unwarranted data.
- If no secure options are available, ask yourself – is it worth the risk?
Using open public wifi networks
The digital equivalent of the wild west, open public wifi networks represents a significant security and privacy risk. If you routinely use public wifi, note that you should never use these networks to access sensitive accounts, such as your online banking. You should also avoid logging into accounts that link to other accounts, such as your Google, over these networks.
The best way to stay secure and protect your data, if you must use open wifi networks, is to invest in a reliable virtual private network (VPN) that encrypts your traffic and shields your activity from any would-be prying eyes.
Using social media
Social media represents a significant privacy risk, with all the big names using data to sell targeted ads. That’s the whole business model. Your online behaviors are used to generate advertising revenue for the platforms. It can also be sold to other companies who want access to specific demographics or user bases.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest—not to mention Google and Amazon—all collect and store data. They know what your interests are, who your friends are and even know what kind of toothpaste you buy.
There have been several cases where people have sued these companies for violating their privacy rights by sharing their personal information without consent.
Many of us know this and are willing to forgo privacy for free social media account use. However, when you sit down and truly weigh the potential positives and negatives of the situation, the answer is not so clear.