Geo-location can be convenient, especially when you’re lost or need GPS services. However, many fail to realize that any information surrounding your location is stored, archived and sold to a third party who wants to use that information for a wide variety of reasons. For example, are you aware that data is often collected during your shopping experiences? A variety of stores will purchase location information to determine how long a customer browsed in a particular aisle, so that they can further market to those customers in the future to promote similar products. The information may seem harmless, but would you feel that same way if you saw a physical person following you around collecting the same information?
Facebook, Google, Twitter and Instagram are all social media services that are provided to individuals for “free,” but have you ever wondered what the real cost might be? It is often said that if you don’t have to pay for the service, then you are the service. The hidden cost for utilizing these social media sites is the forfeit of personal information for them to sell and profit from. Some individuals might say they don’t mind because they have “nothing to hide,” but wouldn’t you be wary of publicly posting your login credentials, not knowing who might have access? Giving these large organizations rights to your private messages can be interpreted as pretty much the same thing.
Another lesser-known fact about Facebook is that it can create “ghost profiles” using facial recognition for people who do not have an account but appear in someone else’s photos. During the Dakota Pipeline protests, Facebook sold the private chat messages of its users who were discussing the matter to the FBI and local police, as well as private security companies. The police didn’t need a warrant to obtain confidential information; they simply needed to buy it. This is just one of the many ways that social media affects those who don’t realize the implications.
Web browsers on smartphones are referred as “sandboxed” in the cybersecurity industry, meaning they cannot access general data on the system or control hardware. However, an app can be coded to do anything, such as gather information. For example, the History Channel’s mobile website prompts users to download the app and will limit or restrict the pages you can visit. In order to view more pages, you must download the app, giving up personal information in the process. After downloading, the app asks for permission to access the camera and the microphone on your device to gather additional information on its users.
Speech software such as Cortana, Alexa and Siri have become increasingly popular in the past few years. However, if you are running these services in your home or office, you have an active listening device running at all times. Essentially, you are “bugged.” These services are running, tapping and sending your audio streams to remote servers daily. Many fail to realize that the cameras on these devices can be turned on without the light being activated. All of this can be done without downloading any related software, because the software is already built in. Additionally, if you live in the United States and own a smart TV, it’s likely monitoring what you watch and at what times.
The savings passed on to the consumer are far less than the amount of money these companies are making by selling the information to outside resources regarding your purchasing history and habits. Specifically, Kroger and Ingles make over 200 percent more profit from the data that they sell than the savings the consumer experiences. The best way to protect oneself from the sharing of personal information is to limit the number of programs you participate in.