Statistics quoted by pewresearch.org show that roughly 60% of US adults believe that their data is collected by both government agencies and corporate companies. 81% – 84% of US residents think that they have no control over whether their data is collected or not. And, the same cohort of individuals believes that the potential risks of their personal data being collected outweigh the benefits. Between 64% and 79% are somewhat concerned about the fact that their personal information is collected by corporates and government agencies like the NSA and the CIA.
Therefore, based on these figures, it is reasonable to conclude that the average US resident no longer has control over their individual data. It is collected by both government agencies and corporate companies. And the ramifications of this privacy loss are serious, as shown by both Edward Snowden in 2013 and the Wikileaks saga in 2017.
Succinctly stated, Edward Snowden provided evidence to the American, and global, public that the NSA has surveillance equipment that records and tracks the world’s digital communications. And in 2017, the Wikileaks.org website released a major tranche of information proving that the CIA used hacking tools like malware, trojans, and other virus-like software to illegally collect data on US citizens.
The latest example of mass data collection and the subsequent abuse of this data is the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal. This data was illegally harvested from Facebook, and it was used for political advertising. Not only was this data harvested through an app created by Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, but it was also sold to political parties in the USA. In summary, this data theft assisted the Donald Trump election campaign.
Thus, it is essential for Americans to fight for the right to their privacy and to protect their data from being collected and stored by both government and corporate organizations.
Consequently, the question that begs is, how do you mitigate the risk of losing your private data while online?
By way of answering this question, let’s consider the following online privacy tips:
Make sure your online traffic is encrypted – incognito mode isn’t secure
When you browse the Internet or transact online, and your online interactions are unencrypted, anyone with the correct equipment such as hackers using sniffing software can view the transaction details. As described above, in a world where the right to privacy, especially digital privacy is not respected, it is necessary to implement measures like installing a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to encrypt all of your Internet traffic.
Avoid IoT-based network solutions like Amazon Alexa Echo
There is no doubt that a connected home, courtesy of the latest Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, is convenient. And while it might be front and center of your decision to install IoT-linked devices, the flipside is that the brands that manufacture the interconnected devices often have agreements with US state and federal governments to hand over your data.
An article in theguardian.com titled “‘Alexa, are you invading my privacy?’ – the dark side of our voice assistants” describes a scenario where an Amazon customer was sent circa 1 700 audio files from someone’s Echo. And these files contained enough information to locate the Echo user and his girlfriend.
Therefore, it is advisable to avoid relying on the IoT to power and manage your home should you wish to keep your personal information private.
Avoid Google Chrome and Gmail
Google has a lot to answer for in terms of respecting its users’ online privacy. They collect an amazing amount of personal data from all their users.
For example, they retain your purchase history, track and monitor your email conversations, and keep a record of all of your online searches, transactions, websites you visit, and your journeys via Google Maps.
The good news is that they do not sell this information to anyone else. It’s more valuable to their marketing efforts than if they were to sell it to their competition. They will delete some of your data, but only after storing it for 18 months. Therefore, the only way to prevent Google from collecting your data is to avoid using their products like Chrome, Gmail, and Google Drive and its associated apps.
Global governments are increasing their surveillance of their citizens. This global pandemic is a point in case. Governments are implementing track and trace methods, ostensibly to control and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. On many levels, this is true. However, these surveillance methods also encroach on the individual citizen’s right to personal privacy.
Therefore, it is necessary to implement cybersecurity protective measures, such as installing a VPN to ensure that your data is not hacked or stolen.