Compiling information about us are by no means limited to the NSA.
Our rapidly eroding internet privacy
In last week’s OWDT blog post, we discussed substantial privacy threats surrounding the emergence of online Big Data. Be aware that entities compiling information about us are by no means limited to the NSA. In fact, numerous under the radar ‘marketing companies’ can track our every transaction and location (the latter, if we use a smartphone) and then freely sell that information.
Unfortunately, whenever you provide your email address signing up for a new website account, submit a credit card number to make an online purchase, or share your phone number, you are compromising your security. Who, among us, bothers to read the Privacy Agreements linked with new accounts? Despite the emergence of the online reputation management industry, when information is digitized, it transfers into cyberspace where it’s virtually impossible to erase.
Undeniable benefits of big data
None of this can discount the present and future benefits of Big Data to give us quick, early warning snapshots of sudden changes in public health, food supply, and financial challenges. Tweets, coupled with data from cell phone carriers, for example, can localize such problems and help humanitarian organizations generate and deliver solutions faster.
Recommended TV documentary
If you watched the CNN’s May 4th broadcast of “Morgan Spurlock Inside Man” you got a sobering, accurate overview of how vulnerable even our most private information is – not only to hackers, but for anyone determined to gain access to your most private data. Among the program’s revelations: there are two websites – one providing clients with the first half of a person’s social security number and the other providing the remaining digits. By the way, for those of you with ‘On Demand,’ this program is now available for viewing.
While most parties interested in your private information simply want to better match you to online ads that are consistent with your lifestyle and psychological profile (yes, psychological profile…there are even logarithms for that), make no mistake about it, your information is available to virtually anyone willing to pay for it.
Some measures you can take to minimize potential damage:
- Change your browser’s privacy settings for added security.
- Change passwords frequently (a lot more frequently than you have to date).
- If you have Firefox, download their free Lightbeam add-on to view the dozen or so under-the-radar organizations that may be tracking your every transaction.
- Consider using a free, open-source anti-theft application like Prey that can be used both for computers and mobile phones to track your device’s location when you tell it to, so you won’t be tracked while the phone is in your possession.
- Similarly, technologies such as Microsoft BitLocker allow stored files to be encrypted, i.e., only readable with a password/passphrase, PIN, or token) on your own local system/device. There are scams here, too, unfortunately, so make sure that this technology has been developed by a reputable security software company. Another encryption option is two-factor authentication, where a second corroboration code/password is required for access to your vital files.