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The Battle for Privacy

Nothing we do is private anymore

Imagine there was an app where you could input everything you did today, everyone you talked to, what the conversations were about, everywhere you went, everything you bought, every computer site you visited.

Now imagine broadcasting that data, along with your age, address and contact information to anyone on the planet who wanted to look at it. Would you be crazy enough to do that? Me either.

But the companies we rely on for basic communication and computer services do just that. They want to know everything about you, so they can sell that info to companies who want to sell you things. Google has just one raison d’etre: to compile information for sale. That’s why a lot of their services are free. The more you use, the more they know about you. And Google dominates the web. It’s hard to avoid.

Is your right to privacy less important than their right to advertise?

No matter what information you want to find on the web, from news to dictionaries, you’re subjected to endless advertising. Blog posts are often bloated with it. Not just advertising for the blogger’s own products, but random ads for often unrelated services or products. Chances are your e-mail has a sidebar of advertising.

Now, I understand why merchants advertise. Of course they want more sales. But advertising shouldn’t be crammed down our throats at every turn. And I consider it unethical for them to use private information, information we never authorized for distribution, to serve up ads personalized to us.

Privacy policies are arbitrary

A couple of years ago, the company I have used for e-mail for thirty years sent out a notice that it was changing its privacy rules to allow it to contact anyone on our contacts list to offer services, and use our names as referrals. They backed down after a huge outcry. I was ready to migrate to another provider if they had carried through with it.

Privacy policies are not only arbitrary, they are often unclear. For instance, the section regarding how the company will use your data may say something like “for legitimate business purposes.” That could mean anything. Virtually all of them include a reference to sharing the data with Google Analytics, which means anything Corporation X knows, Google knows.

In addition to extensions on my browser to block as many ads and trackers as possible, I make a point of changing the settings on the apps I use to maximize privacy. It doesn’t help much. Facebook still sends me ads geared toward seniors, specifically female seniors. My news feed has more ads than news. If I didn’t need it for business, I wouldn’t use it at all.

Facebook’s drive to further invade your privacy

A few days ago I got a notice from my website registrar that says, in part, this:

I’m writing to you now, as Facebook attempts to gain the right to your personal data perpetually, simply because they ask for it.

By lobbying ICANN (the organization that oversees registrars like us) as well as filing a case against us via US courts, we believe Facebook is not just attempting to sneak around the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but that their actions could open the floodgates for anyone to demand your private data.

A blog post gave more details on what and why Facebook was lobbying for this. It definitely isn’t a “legitimate business purpose”. If they win their case, I’ll close my account with FB.

Covid 19 apps

One sneaky way to dig into your privacy is to capitalize on your fears. The Covid 19 app promises to let you know if someone around you has the virus. There are some catches, of course. It can only let you know if the other person also has the app. And if you download the app, you are required to have your phone on and the app active when you are out. Some of these apps are being pushed by various governments.

A report by IDAC (International Digital Accountability Council) says: However, our investigation did uncover several instances in which apps fell short of best practices related to privacy and security, and potentially exposed the public to avoidable risks and potential harms. In particular, wefound that some apps: (1) were not transparent about their data collection and third-party sharing practices; (2) included third-party advertising and analytics software development kits (SDKs) that seemed extraneous to the functionality of the app; (3) sent transmissions that were not encrypted –including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) app; and (4) requested permissions that have the potential to be invasive and may collect more information than is reasonably necessary to accomplish the core functions of the apps.

Information irrelevant to the purpose is often requested

Several times I have been interested in a webinar being offered, but I declined to register because they asked for my phone number. I never give out my phone number except to family, friends and a few business contacts. There is no legitimate reason for the webinar giver to request it.

Recently I downloaded a game app that looked interesting. I played for a few minutes, then wanted to save it but couldn’t unless I logged into it via Facebook. Not gonna happen,folks. The last thing in the world I need is yet another link to Facebook.

I always block my location, as it’s seldom relevant to anything I search. Recently a few blogs I ended up at had pop-ups that requested I share my location with them. To what end? It’s irrelevant to the blog or the information I was seeking. The only possible answer is some bot trying to scrape data.

Protect yourself

Take time to read the privacy policies of any apps you use. If you don’t like the terms, don’t use the app.Turn off the location broadcaster on your phone and computer, unless there’s a good reason to have it on. Be judicious in what you choose to share on social media. If you don’t want everyone to know, keep it to yourself. Let your government representatives know you want legislation with teeth to protect your privacy. If we don’t stand up for our rights, we will certainly lose them.

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