Trust can be dangerous: why tech infrastructure shouldn't be taken for granted
Our lives have become linked to our social media handles inseparably. It seems to no longer be a matter of choice, with apps requiring Google or Facebook sign-ins, and your entire identity being linked together through these apps, accounts and online activity.
Anonymity is no longer the defining characteristic of online life. Neither is trust in big tech companies something to take for granted. If you think that the tech giants of today will ensure the security and privacy of your data, you’re quite wrong as your personal data can be tracked, sold, and leaked either intentionally or unintentionally.
Are you safe, even as a non-User?
Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the US Congress saying that Facebook even collects data on non-users for “security purposes”.
This alone can alert you to the extent of the information they would like to keep on actual users of the platform who consent to give out their information, ranging from linking credit card information to the entirety of a person’s social network.
For just this reason, we recommend you use a VPN that obscures your location and thus confuses the algorithm that collects, maintains and organizes your data into a profile for advertisers and any third parties that might wish to buy your personal information.
To demonstrate, a VPN such as NordVPN comes equipped with IP spoofing, access to geo-restricted services (including Netflix, BBC, Spotify and others), and will never log your data and preferences on their own servers, thus making it impossible for even a government organization to access your information.
Tech Companies can do whatever they want
The Google terms and conditions explicitly state that a user consents to the company reading and indexing their data. This data, whether collected by Google, Facebook, Twitter, or even any other website of any kind that tracks you, would then be available to sell to advertisers.
If you are reading this and you have a Google account, whoever you are, Google has an advertiser profile ready-made for you, to which its algorithms add and subtract your data all the time.
Similarly, you can also download your information from Facebook that they have on you, collected over the years. This also includes information you might have previously deleted, ranging from conversations with friends you’d have fallen out of, to videos and pictures you deemed as long lost.
How much of my data is at risk?
Simply put, everything. Yes, clicks on ads and search queries might make sense, but data is also indexed and stored on face scans and “third-party connect data”.
The interlinking of all accounts, for example, such as using your Google account to sign up for Facebook and then using that Facebook account to make a Snapchat account, makes all your data fair game to all three of the companies involved because of the connection in between.
In fact, data is trackable even if solely through a third party for any company that needs it – as in, Google is well within its ability to keep your data and give it around to any buyers for a certain price.
Who is safe from data mining?
The infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw over 87 million Facebook accounts leaked to the US presidential campaign by a third-party app, also included in its list of victims Mark Zuckerberg himself.
This just goes to show the extent to which anonymity is compromised. Zuckerberg is also notorious for keeping the webcam on his laptop taped up, presumably to deter any apps or persons from accessing it without his knowledge. Not only is this possible, but it has slowly become the norm.
Even the microphone on your device records without you using any recording or voice-activated apps – something that was previously just like a conspiracy theory. An early investigation found how Google Assistant would listen in on, and record, around 20 seconds of any conversation.
How to safeguard yourself and your data
Of course, this drives home the crucial importance of using a VPN. Large organizations run their entire servers through VPNs, and if you’re in an IT-related field, you might already know how even clients interact over VPNs, securing data on both ends.
In the past few years, with an increased media spotlight on privacy breaches, most of the big tech companies do allow you to opt out of certain, if not all, services. It pays to take a visit to your Privacy Settings on Google and Facebook, the two big conglomerates that own and authorize almost all of your other apps, and see what you’re sharing with them.
You must be careful with your data online and not install any third-party apps that your App or Play Store warns you against. It is usually these shady apps that will make you click on an ‘OK’ button when you least expect it, running off with all your data in a neat and tidy bundle to sell.
Our world is ever-expanding on the technological front. As your identity becomes linked with your online activity, you need to be fully alert with your data privacy to ward off any unintended consequences.