Recently there has been a growing awareness of the value of our personal information, and that disclosing it to social media companies, apps, online stores etc is the price we pay in return for many free online services. The growth of the internet of things – all those connected devices like Home Assistants, smart doorbells, fitness monitors etc – means that some of the information collected about us can be very personal indeed. Some people are concerned about that, while others are not at all or perhaps don’t even think about it. That request to Alexa to “add ketchup to my shopping list” seems fairly innocuous but added to the wealth of other information being collected, modern technology is able to analyse and categorise our interests, spending power, location, age, sex, likes and this micro profiling can be used to subtly manipulate our behaviour. I feel this is a far greater invasion of our privacy than has ever been possible before.
EU data protection laws have introduced rules designed to protect our data, but it does still require vigilance on the part of individuals. I do feel that businesses and schools are more aware and far better now at protecting personal information, but as individuals, I am not sure we look after ourselves so well.
There are limits on the information that can be collected about us without our consent. That sounds comforting, but how many of us click on that “Agree to terms” without reading them or the “Agree to all cookies” button rather than taking one further step and managing which cookies apply? How many download a new app and accept all the permissions requested, (potentially camera, contacts and location amongst others) without taking the time to see if they are really necessary for that app? And what about signing into that new App with your social networking account, enabling all the information on your public profile to be shared with the App provider?
Obviously much of our personal data is gathered for advertising purposes and some might not care too much about that. But our data is also the stock in trade of fraudsters, and they are adept at tricking or tempting us into revealing it. They have no care for those they defraud, as has been shown by the recent Panorama programme about a scam call centre, and the proliferation of scams relating to the corona virus. There is a great video by Action Fraud on YouTube that demonstrates how much information can be obtained from someone simply “liking” a product or business on social media.
How can we protect our data?
A few years ago, shredding was our main focus. Then email phishing scams began tempting us to click on malicious links. We use our emails for pretty much everything online and the malware in these links gives hackers access to our accounts and can lead to identity fraud. Now the fraudsters have moved on to using links in text messages too.
As well as being vigilant and sceptical of unexpected messages we need to put some basic security in place. Anti-virus software should be kept up to date, privacy settings on phones, apps and social media accounts should be activated, and phones should use passcodes or biometric technology such as fingerprint, iris or facial recognition. Passwords should be strong and not used on multiple accounts and where possible two-step verification should be used. This provides a second layer of security on your accounts, either via a phone or email contact. If a hacker attempts to change your password, you will be alerted by a text or email to verify that it is you. It only takes a little extra of your time and can save you from an expensive mistake!