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Privacy vs. the Internet

April 09, 2018

​Hard on the heels of the Cambridge Analytica scandal comes the news that Facebook has been recording some users’ mobile phone call logs for years. While many Facebook users are understandably upset about these privacy intrusions, the truth is that much of the Internet is devoted to tracking behavior in order to better influence, sell, or scam. So, how can you maintain your privacy when big companies have so much control over our devices and data?

​Here’s a 4-step strategy for protecting your privacy.

  • Step 1: Be aware that many organizations have the right to gather your data without asking you. For example, broadband service providers have the right to track and sell information about you, your browsing history, and your app usage. (In June 2017, the Senate voted to roll back an FCC privacy rule that would have kept broadband providers from selling your personal information without permission.) And the 2017 Equifax breach made many people aware that credit bureaus gather and sell our personal information. These days, you can pretty much assume that every website you visit, every app you use, and every company you do online business with is gathering information about you.
  • Step 2: Read the fine print. The right to gather data on you is often built into the service agreements for the devices, apps, and services you use. For example, Android users who installed Facebook’s Messenger app gave Facebook the right to track their calls unless they explicitly opted out. Tedious as those agreements are, if you value your privacy, read through them to see what tracking permissions you are granting and whether you can turn that tracking off. While they don’t tell you up front, most legitimate businesses including broadband and Internet service providers will allow customers to opt out of having their data shared or used for third-party marketing.
  • Step 3: Tighten up privacy settings on your devices, browsers, apps, social media sites, and anyplace else you connect to the Internet.
  • Step 4: Vote with your mouse. If you’ve read the agreement and you don’t find the privacy protections acceptable, don’t buy that service, join that website, or download that app. The #DeleteFacebook movement is getting the attention of all the social media companies, proving that consumer action can make a difference.

​Finally, keep in mind the old saying: “If the product is free, then you’re the product.” A business that depends on your business has at least some incentive to protect your privacy and keep you happy. But all those Internet freebies, from social media to entertainment, are in the business of tracking you and selling your information. By using them, you are consenting to be sold. You may consider that a good bargain in return for the value they provide you, but like any relationship, Internet relationships should be based on informed consent.

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