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Data Privacy: Is Controlling My Own Data Impossible?

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Data Privacy: Is Controlling My Own Data Impossible?

Private data are called private for a reason.

However, most tech companies seem to forget that. Because most tech companies not only are not protecting your private data but they are also making a huge profit from them.

So, is there anything you can do about data privacy?

Is controlling your own data possible?

A Data Rape Story

An hour in the e-life of Zhara (and probably your life as well)

  • 5:57 am Hits snooze button for the 2nd time on the clock app on her smartphone
  • 6:00 am Smart TV switches on automatically and begins playing the DVR recording of her favorite morning show
  • 6:08 am Brushes teeth with her blue-tooth connected toothbrush
  • 6:30 am Puts on smartwatch & heads out for morning run
  • 6:57 am Switches from music app to audiobook as she rounds the corner to home

Within 60 minutes of waking up, 8 apps and devices have recorded detailed personal information about Zhara’s life. She knows that data privacy is an illusion and she is not alone.

It is estimated that from a single person, over the course of a single week, digital service providers collect over 5,300 rows & 46 columns worth of data. This includes URLs, time stamps, IP addresses, cookies IDs, browsing history, entertainment preferences, buying habits, fitness data, payment information, location, and much more.

None of this is news to Zhara though. She is keenly aware that the data creeps have a front-row seat to her entire life but accepts that it’s the price she has to pay to live in the modern world.

In fact, she even thinks that she permits this ‘data-rape’ scenario because she knows she often checks the ‘accept terms and conditions’ box. She knows that by doing this she is consenting to a loss of data privacy but feels powerless to do otherwise. 

Zhara is part of a silent majority. Research by Deloitte reveals that over 90 percent of consumers accept terms and conditions without even reading them. Shocking! The reasons for this vary, but people generally admit they accept tracking because to do otherwise would be incredibly tedious and unnecessarily time-consuming. Furthermore, even if they could dedicate the time required to read the multiple-page agreements, they would need an IT degree to understand the content. 

The Loss of Data Privacy: Strategy & Execution

It’s no coincidence that Zhara feels pressured to give up her right to data privacy in exchange for a product or service; the user experience is designed exactly with this result in mind. Behind most eCommerce sites, default settings and design features are created to purposefully manipulate customers to choose the privacy-invasive options. 

A 2018 study by the Norwegian Consumer Council titled Deceived By Design, analyzed a sample of privacy settings in Facebook, Google, and Windows 10 to figure out whether there were dark patterns present. Dark pattern is the practice of willfully tricking customers through the use of manipulative tactics.

The study uncovered content that included:

  • Misleading wording
  • Language which gives users an illusion of control
  • Hiding away privacy-friendly choices
  • Take-it-or-leave-it choices
  • Scenarios where choosing the privacy-friendly option requires more effort for the users

The study also found that these sites are designed with symbols and wording that nudge users away from privacy-friendly choices. 

Google's Data Privacy Policy
Google’s Data Privacy Policy

The truth is, the average user really doesn’t stand a chance when faced with these manipulative tactics and will inevitably sign away their rights to data privacy in exchange for a quick transaction. 

The Big Deal With Data Privacy

Let’s be real, many of the personalized experiences we’re used to wouldn’t be possible without some level of ‘digital stalking’ from our service providers. After all, it is expected that Personal Identifying Information (PII) will be used for the purpose of enhancing our digital experiences. Most people are OK with this exchange of data for service if the worst consequence is some pesky targeted ad that follows them around the web. But the real danger doesn’t lie in what we can see, it’s the unseen which poses the greater risk. 

Despite the many outrageous instances of privacy breaches that have been reported in the media, many people have been lulled into a false sense of security because they think they haven’t been directly impacted. They think they haven’t had their payment systems compromised, their private pictures haven’t been shared publicly, their personal messages haven’t been intercepted. All’s good in the tha’ hood, right? Well, it might be surprising to realize that there’s an active network made up of hundreds of third parties that have paid handsomely for an access-pass from these same service-providers. 

Zhara for example, recently downloaded a free video-editing app on her phone to improve the quality of her Instagram posts. She automatically clicked ‘Accept’ when the app requested access to her photo gallery. What she didn’t realize was that her consent also authorized the app to share her photos with companies that are interested in learning more about her demographic. In reality, she unknowingly granted viewing access to a bunch of random strangers.

These third-party data brokers then use this (and other) data to categorize her, making assumptions on things like her gender, age, sexual preference, household size, education level, and gross yearly income. These assumptions, drawn from a combination of sources, are then used to generate a digital profile. Below is a summary description of one digital profile that was created for Zhara:

  • A 42 y-o cancer-surviving, lesbian, Latina, Democrat with a GED

When in reality she is:

  • A 27 y-o, heterosexual, Caucasian, Republican with a college degree.

So, they pegged her wrong. That’s their problem, not hers, right? Well, there are a number of ways this could negatively impact her that she’ll probably never be aware of. Many agencies use this information to develop risk profiles that are used to identify ‘undesirable’ subjects. For example, someone with a low income, who shops at high-end stores could be labeled as being high risk for fraud impacting their ability to secure a loan, or someone categorized as a cancer-survivor could have trouble finding reasonably-priced insurance. 

Data Privacy - Hacker

Most times it is impossible to identify which data these categorizations are based on and – most worryingly – it is impossible to know when it is being used inaccurately.

How Can I Regain Control of My Private Data?

Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have to continue to be victims. It is possible to regain control over our data privacy, and the solution starts at the source – with a VPN. A Virtual Private Network is a private network that masks online actions from public internet connections, making them virtually untraceable. Once installed, users can add this protection to all their devices. 

Volta Protect is an easy-to-use VPN that will hide your IT address and encrypt your internet activity. It was born out of the belief that everyone deserves peace of mind when it comes to their personal information and it enables:

  • MULTI-LEVEL ENCRYPTION – three levels of robust military-grade encryption algorithms that surpass standards recommended by the NSA protecting communications and sensitive data end-to-end.
  • IGNORANCE BY DESIGN – Volta doesn’t store user data, monitor communications or track activity, so your data can’t be sold. The government can’t access it, advertisers can’t use it, and criminals can’t steal it.
  • ANONYMITY – Use Volta without providing any personal information. To remain completely anonymous, you can pay with crypto-currency.

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