In my workshops I tell people, “Everything you post online is ultimately public. There is no such thing as online privacy, only perceived online privacy.”
What Does It Mean?
- Nearly every app / web service you use collects data about you. (Location information, search history, purchase history, usage history.) They tell you about it in the terms of service, you just didn’t read it.
- That information is usually sold in a bundled way. In other words, few people care about what you exactly are doing. But if I’m a retail company, say CVS, I would pay money to know who is in my zip code, what they search for, what they purchase, etc. And if I could know the tendencies of 9th graders in my community so I could better market my product? That’s valuable information to any marketer.
- Data collection is not evil. I like to emphasize that. The intent of collecting, bundling, and selling that information is usually to deliver targeted ads. For the most part, this isn’t clandestine stuff. It’s benign and the intent is usually just to sell you more stuff.
- This can lead to clandestine stuff. As they show in the documentary, it’s not hard to get individuals information, track them, and follow them. And, at least as far as I know, the NSA isn’t out their collecting it… they don’t need to. They just need to subpoena the companies who collect the data so that they can get access to what’s already out there.
What Do I Do?
- Short of dropping out of society there isn’t a whole lot you can do to stop it. Every service you use collects information about you. (Phone, internet, mobile apps, cable TV… everything.)
- Be selective about location services. I’ve written about this before. Your smartphone has a GPS in it that can record your every move. Be careful about which apps you allow to access your GPS, photos, and other apps. (Here’s how to disable it.)
- Understand that everything you do online is tracked and recorded. No, you can’t bypass that. No, you can’t opt out. And deleting things off of your device doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I’ve had students say, “Well yeah, that’s why I use VPS.” Let me repeat… everything you do online is tracked and recorded. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. That means that you shouldn’t look at things, search for things, do things that you don’t want coming to light later.
I’m not an alarmist. I’m not saying not to use your phone or all of the apps that are out there.
I am saying be wise in what you do with them.
Everything You Post Online is Public
There’s an entire breed of apps on the market that promise that things magically go away. That’s just marketing. That’s what you want to believe, but for a commercial application, that’s just not how the internet works.
Ephemeral messaging is the hottest thing in app development.
It’s all based on the idea that the message you just sent goes away.
Snapchat. Cyber Dust. Wickr. Confide. The list goes on and on.
These are all free apps that promise that the messages go away.
And these are all apps heavily funded by venture capitalists.
Security experts are questioning the validity of these claims just like I am…
The problem is that these new “ephemeral” conversations aren’t really ephemeral the way a face-to-face unrecorded conversation would be. They’re not ephemeral like a conversation during a walk in a deserted woods used to be before the invention of cell phones and GPS receivers.
At best, the data is recorded, used, saved and then deliberately deleted. At worst, the ephemeral nature is faked. While the apps make the posts, texts or messages unavailable to users quickly, they probably don’t erase them off their systems immediately. They certainly don’t erase them from their backup tapes, if they end up there.
If Something is Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is
You can’t tell me that powerful, highly profitable venture capitalists are encouraging the development of ephemeral apps where all of the data goes away, can’t be used again, and the app is 100% free.
That makes no sense. How do they plan on making a profit if they aren’t collecting in data to mine later?
Mark Cuban is a genius, I admire him, and his shrewdness has helped him become a billionaire. You can’t tell me that Cyber Dust is 100% free and also doesn’t collect any information that can’t be sold to make a profit.
To believe that would be stupid. Don’t be stupid.
Understand that everything you post online, every comment, every like, every picture, every Kik, everything sent over a data network is ultimately recorded and stored indefinitely.