“Share this post!”, “I’ll buy it online”, “Google it!”. The Internet and mobile apps help us to solve daily problems and save time: what better advantage could we ask for?! But don’t forget that nothing comes free, so this easy way of life comes with a price and it’s quite expensive. Everything we so readily search for, see and upload on the net is stored, saved and profitably used by internet providers and app companies.
This is nothing new for most, but what’s more disquieting is that those same companies can access devices for profiling people by gathering personal data such as the address book, photos, texts etc in electronic devices. These apps include Spotify, Carrier IQ and Color which in 2011 was able to activate microphones in smartphones without users’ consent. Scratching the surface, the statistical overview by the French National Commission on Informatics and Liberty (CNIL) in 2014 wasn’t reassuring. Just to mention a few points: 75% of mobile apps save personal information, 49% can detect users’ location and 26% get access to personal contacts. The reason why these companies take personal data is not surprising: they do this for their own business interests. An MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) 2011 study showed that companies investing in data are more profitable than those that don’t.
Before panic sets in on account of this Orwellian scenario, I will mention some DIY solutions aimed at achieving a good level of privacy. As John Naughton (journalist for The Guardian) wrote, complete privacy is impossible but internet users can follow ten ways to protect themselves. For example, Bluetooth and open Wi-Fi are not recommended because you could be victim of snoopers. Make sure you surf on encrypted HTTPS connections. Accounts requiring keypasses can be managed by using passphrases instead of passwords. Most users will probably not follow the next suggestion: delete social network accounts. It is the easiest, fastest and cheapest way of finding out everything about you. A less well-known search engine that doesn’t track your searches is called DuckDuckgo: a less powerful web engine which yields limited results, but it is an excellent solution if your priority is to be anonymous. GPG for Mail is a pay mail service that encrypts the content of your e-mails.
Obviously, individual efforts are not enough, and political institutions should enact laws to protect people. For this reason, the European Parliament approved a regulation for privacy in 2016 that will become effective in 2018. A different future is in view in the USA, where the American Senate voted against the regulations proposed by the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) to forbid Internet providers to sell users’ data without their consent. The final decision is up to the President of the United States. Watch out!
Photo Credit: Giulia Luciani