The effect of digital footprints on end users’ online privacy

31 July, 2016

Data is the new currency for businesses these days. Corporations are basing their business models on collecting, exchanging, mining, and trading data. We have also data brokers who sell private users’ information, obtained mostly without users’ consent and sold to companies for millions of dollars.
Almost 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data originated from various sources such as social media, online transactions, cell phone and GPS records, banking transactions, and so on. From these data comes the definition of big data. So what are the risks of voluntarily sharing these kinds of personal data? What are the legal implications of collecting private users’ data without their consent? In what cases should users share their data and for how long could these data could stay online? What is the effect of our data posted online on our futures?
Most social media conglomerates such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are basing their business on a free model, but we all know that in reality, nothing is free. Before we sign up on any website to request a free service, we have to agree to a contract or “terms and conditions” that enable service providers to collect your data or your meta-data that can be useful to others. For marketing corporations, the business model is simple: We find a user’s profiles online, analyze his data, find out his interests and needs, and we send him personalized ads to match his needs. Even if a “need” is not there, these marketing companies have ways and techniques to stimulate those needs.
The data that we provide are based on two kinds the information that we provide voluntarily and the data that we are unwillingly sharing. Most users share their names, ages, addresses, GPS locations, email addresses, marital status, employment status, financial situations, and a lot more. The sum of these carefully collected data are being stored and analyzed by big data brokers; they construct profiles for each user to anticipate their needs and intentions. Researchers also state that data can be used to predict the future and even stop crimes, based on studying human behaviors and history. We are in the era of information and the term science fiction is no longer valid – we have only science.
According to a recent Northeastern University study, you may pay more when shopping online based on your web browsing history or even the kind of smartphone you use. Some consumers have seen their credit limits reduced because they shopped at stores frequented by cardholders with poor payment histories. It’s not inconceivable to think insurance companies might eventually string your data together to determine if you’re insurable, how high your premiums should be based on your perceived risk, or that credit card companies could use your shopping habits to determine your creditworthiness or raise your interest rates.
The main idea is that our digital footprint could do more harm than good if we don’t know how to manage it and use it in the most efficient way. We have to raise users’ awareness about this so that our data can be managed with caution.
Our digital footprints could have an effect on our future life. Your opinion that you post online today on your blog could come back to haunt you when you are a president or a politician in the future. Your thoughts, opinions, and views could change over the years, but data stay stored forever. Employers nowadays research candidates on social media before interviewing them. An employer could check interviewees’ social life, posts, pictures, political opinions, social acceptance, and other criteria that might not be revealed in a first meeting. Other corporations are using big data and data-mining algorithms to search for the best candidate for job offers. We find now that hiring is based on an algorithm that could judge your skills and effectiveness for a job.
Posting our private data on the web could be a threat to your online reputation. Hackers have the ability to steal your information and use it for malicious activities such as identity theft, hacking, and even medical identity theft. Private patients’ information is being sold to the highest bidder. Hackers also have a technique called social engineering based, on gathering as much information as possible online on their victims, and using this to bypass their secure systems, crack their passwords, and steal their identity.
There are several online tools for protecting our privacy created by the Internet society, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Tactical Technology Collective, and other NGOs. They have made it their life mission to protect our digital rights and freedoms. We can mention some tools, such as using the TOR network to hide our browsing history, SSL everywhere plugin for protecting our communication, and using encryption added to VPNs and proxies; but the most effective way is to change our online browsing habits and to be cautious and aware when we share our private information online.
Further Readings :
Mr. Mohamed Moadeb Informations system Administrator / RSSI