Thursday, 17 October, 2019

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How Much Privacy Does This App Cost?

As a society we have grown to expect technology to reduce the hassle of our interactions in our business and personal lives.

You can find directions to restaurants. You can ask your digital assistant questions. Your friends can track where you are. You can receive and pay your bills. You can even check your heartbeat and monitor your sleeping habits and share that information with your friends. With the proliferation of smart devices the digitization process of our lives has already begun. Advances in the tech industry, profoundly impacts and shapes our lives as we change our daily routines because of it.

Mobile devices and their apps can offer us convenience, cost savings, greater insight and seamless experiences. However, every time you use your mobile device and its apps, you leave behind a data trail that can be tracked. This data is as unique to an individual as a fingerprint. When you ask for directions to a place, the information is stored in a database to help you find it faster next time. Every query you make can be used to build your profile.The problem arises when these app profiles contain more information than is needed. Strangers can now see very personal information about you and your behaviors and send this information back to their servers to store for later use.

Giving up a little privacy in exchange for convenience for some isn't a bad thing. Internet browsers for years have used cookies to provide targeted advertisements. Creating and maintaining an accurate profile on social network sites so friends and family can find you has become extremely convenient. Logging into apps and websites with Facebook credentials is much easier than creating and remember new account information.

So where are the areas of concern?

The problem comes in the form of companies accessing your personal data without explicit or implied permission. We don’t know how much and what kind of data a company may have about us. Neither do we have control over how they use that information. Many developers use ad revenue to provide their apps for free. However some of them may be selling your personal information as well. You have no way of knowing so therefore have no way to stop it.

So how can some sense of balance between our need for privacy and our desire for convenience be maintained? As always the answer boils down to diligence and research.

Be aware of what information apps are asking for by reading the permission lists and long agreements in legalese even if boring. Understanding this information is critical to knowing what is being done with your data.

Use disposable email addresses or an alias account if unsure about new services when signing up. You can always update your email address at a later date if you like the site and want to continue using it.

Review the privacy settings configurable in most apps. It pays to be familiar with what features you have access to and how to use them properly.

Take the embarrassment test. If you are really worried that a photo or a status update if seen by the wrong person could cost you your job, loose a best friend, break up your marriage or harm your children, is it really worth posting?

Technology has made our lives easier. We all should understand that technology even when free can come with a cost. That cost could be a slightly annoying advertisement while you use the application or perhaps something much greater. Each individual has to decide for themselves what cost they are willing to pay in privacy currency for the added convenience of an app.

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