from Note to Self
We have become accustomed to the idea that we are being watched and that information about our locations, moods, contacts, things we like and don’t like, etc. exists in databases at the ready for retrieval when needed. Do most of us feel like this is a violation of our privacy? The reality is that it feels less as a violation and more of the norm and at times…a convenience. Our fear and suspicion is placated by a customized deal or special. How did CVS know that I was out of contact lens solution and that I was in the market for a new hair treatment? It doesn’t matter, because I got a handy-dandy coupon (linked to my CVS Care Card) for $3 off the solution and an additional 25% off coupon if I buy $15 or more in hair products. Story ends with me proudly coming home to my partner and asking him to guess how little I paid for my bag full of stuff.
How far does the information about my purchases and the nuances of my day-to-day go? Like me, many smart phone users are aware of how technology has evolved and how this social connectivity comes with a hefty price: growing amounts of our data being collected and stored on servers and “the cloud.” A 2016 report from the TRUSTe/National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) Consumer Privacy Index reveals that “more Americans are worried about their privacy than they are about losing their main source of income,” (CBS News). The article reports on the consumers’ escalating fear and anxiety regarding their privacy, but also the lack of knowledge that exists on how they can protect their data. Only 43% of survey respondents knew how to turn locations services off on their phones. There is a disconnect on what the consumer knows and whether or not companies are doing enough to inform them of their rights and protections.
Renowned cryptographer Bruce Schneier walks us through what can be at the fingertips of criminals, the government, and marketers. He makes it clear that through a few clicks in agreeing to terms of services and allowing access to your device data, users have given away their digital rights.
In a series produced by WNYC’s Note to Self podcast titled the Privacy Paradox, Schneier and host Manoush Zomorodi dive deep into the implications of data and metadata collection. Metadata is surveillance data. Schneier says that this type of data –“is incredibly personal. It shows who we’re close to; what we’re interested in; what we search on; what are hopes are; what our fears are; where we go, where we live; where we spend our time; who we spend our time with.”
My personal philosophy on this had been that since I don’t have anything to hide and could even benefit by receiving customized ads and information, caring about data collection seems moot, as it seemed impossible to prevent. The point that has shifted my perspective in listening to the first episode of the podcast’s five-part series is how tracking my every move and thought is not freedom at all and possibly, an obstruction to my civil rights. Most importantly, it emphasized the importance of having even the most privileged step up on protecting their privacy in order to also protect marginal communities, because if everyone protects their privacy it won’t be considered suspicious.
The first step is to explore apps to see what access they have. Turn things off unless it’s necessary. Many apps ask for access to your microphone and location access, why do they need it? Take back your digital rights and decide where you want to draw the line on what these apps can access and collect.