Protecting our privacy against outside organizations such as government infringement has not been some monumental struggle where our civil liberties are aggressively violated without consent. We have willingly volunteered private data for years. That we are becoming the product and our data ends up in unknown places seems to be of little concern to many. While Europe and California have GDPR regulation, The United States is still the guiltiest party in sharing personal information. The government’s interest in personal information to stop the migration of Covid-19 has not helped.
Big tech getting bigger
Facebook violation of the public’s trust is nothing new. While some are not using Facebook apps such as Messenger, there are fears that Facebook has been actively listening to our calls (and spying on us). Facebook apologizes and keeps doing what they are doing. There is a reason for the infamous image of Mark Zuckerberg covering the camera on his computer screen with tape.
Other Big Tech companies are also guilty of using our desire for convenience (or free tech) to spy on us. Of recent note, Spotify now offers free Google speakers to subscribers despite privacy concerns. “It also highlighted how the speakers’ recordings could provide the manufacturers with “new troves of data” to create profiles of customers for advertising purposes (something Apple has fiercely denied) that could prove an attractive target for hackers.”
Amazon has not been pegged as one of the worst perpetrators of gathering personal data, but it has been accused of bad behavior such as exploiting low-paid warehouse workers. Amazon’s new Ring drone is entering a place that many may not be comfortable with. This Verge article accurately describes: “Amazon is building a track record of products that make people do a double-take when they think about how it might affect their privacy. The drone, the other Ring cameras and features, the Sidewalk mesh network, the Halo app that asks you to be scanned in your underpants: there’s almost a shamelessness to them. It’s like Amazon has taken a dare to make the most unsettling consumer products it could.”
What can you do?
To protect privacy these days, we often hear advice that is not feasible, such as going off the grid. But realistically, it is too late – whatever information is out there is already out there. Privacy may be the new luxury – and now coupled with health, the new privilege.
First, don’t purchase products you believe put your privacy at risk. Unless you’re one who waits for hours for the newest iPhone, gadgets are not true ‘must haves’. As Big Tech companies push for voice technology such as Alexa, we are not at their whim, and need not embrace the newest trends or gadgets.
For hardware such as a computer camera and apps, the situation is trickier, as they are hard to be without. But you can turn off the GPS tracking on your phone and use apps for communication such as Signal. If you are concerned about messages being read by unwanted parties, there are plenty of options.
Key is being aware of what you are doing. As we have suggested vigilance with changing passwords, the same goes for online security and what information you’re putting out there. Providing your email to subscription services or posting your email on social media is not always wise.
The more apps that pull your information, the higher risk of personal information being out there. Avoid obviously questionable apps like TikTok and WeChat and delete unnecessary apps on your phone. Do you really need to be on Instagram all the time? You may be safer and happier without them.
This is a fine line; living in a world where we use technology but are not exploited by it. Between the extremes of getting off the grid or not thinking about where our data goes, we need a middle ground and to be aware of how we use technology.