How Far is Too Far? Tech Giants Spy on You and Sell the Data.

In an Era of Massive Data Leaks and Cyber-Attacks, at What Point has Big Tech Gone Too Far in Collecting Your Personal Information?

While we are all eerily, yet reluctantly aware of the rapid encroachment of corporations gathering intimate data on users, most of us choose to ignore the threat these companies put us under.

The convenience of many services, especially social media, allures consumers into putting giving them their most intimate data voluntarily, allowing them to sell the information to marketing firms. This industry is massive and only grows by the year, despite huge leaks and privacy risks.

Spotty government oversight as well as risky, insecure behavior online or even in person by corporations and individuals results in an extensive playground for malicious attackers and cyber-criminals to wreck havoc on the private lives of people across the globe.

Data Collection is at Its Height and It Will Only Continue to Increase, Becoming More Pervasive.

Humans have collected data for millennia, from stocks of grain on stone tablets for simple record keeping, up to astronomical or full demographic census reports. Gathering documentation allows humans to advance as a species, building on the discoveries of our forefathers, e.g. the old saying “If I see further, it’s only because I stood on the shoulders of giants.”

Only then record keeping had its limits. People could easily escape or opt out of being recorded along with the masses, despite occasionally facing repercussions for doing so. With mass surveillance, social media, WiFi, satellites, drones, etc. (you name it!) it appears impossible to get away from the all watchful eye of the information industrial complex in the modern world.

And it’s a lot worse than you think.

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While corporations are spying on may of us — along with the government, many are quick to either ignore the sheer amount of data mining going on around them, or they are completely blind to it. We often assume our phones, laptops and internet-enabled devices are tracking our every move, therefore writing it off as a risk we choose to take, however, it doesn’t end with your cell phone or internet-enabled devices.

Pictures of your license plate are used by corporations to track you, where you are going and when as well as who you associate with. Signal trackers are also employed by some stores to track how one uses their phones in their establishment as well as tracking where customers go in the store, in order to use this knowledge to market their products better to the consumer.

They even go as far as to use facial recognition software to identify customers when they walk in the door, furthering the unfolding mass surveillance dystopia.

If you didn’t know all these methods, one could easily be forgiven, considering that many social media companies can’t even keep track of all the different ways they’re spying on you, according to Forbes. Apple CEO Tim Cook, himself, warned of a ‘Data industrial complex,’ while speaking at an international privacy conference in support of recent EU privacy protection laws.

“Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” Cook said, adding that “these scraps of data…each one harmless enough on its own…are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded, and sold.”

People simply give up. After all, if your phone spies on you, your car spies on you, your refrigerator spies on you, or any other internet enable devices we have come to love that inhabit our homes, it becomes easy to say “well, it’s simply too much, I can’t escape,” and when considering the convenience these devices and services offer, its easy to write off our privacy as less important (unless of course you’re THIS woman who decided to sue Facebook for its highly targeted ads for causing personal emotional trauma).

But that’s usually before consumers understand the risk.

Data Breaches are Not Only More Common than Before but also Much Larger in Scope.

With a few recent major blunders fresh in our minds, such as the Bethesda or the Google+ leak, massive breaches are far too familiar, but these are just the most recent, with Google putting 52.5 million users personal data at risk, prompting them to accelerate the shutdown of the social media platform.

Just this past March of 2018, Facebook revealed a breach exposing the data of about 87 million users. The Cambridge Analytica scandal shocked millions of Americans, but it shouldn’t come as any surprise, especially from those working in the world of social media marketing or politics. Potentially millions of more people have already been exposed, another app called “” infiltrated 120 million profiles.

Under Armor put another 150 million people at risk with an issue with their app and Exactis, a marketing firm, left 2terabytes of data available on a publicly accessible server, putting the personal details of 350 million people in danger, but none of these are even the biggest records breaches this year alone! Aadhaar, basically the Indian version of Social Security Numbers, had backdoor access sold for just 500 rupees through WhatsApp, leaving all 1.1billion of their citizens vulnerable to malicious actors to compile and sell for profit to professional criminals online.

Image Credit: Austin PoonUnsplash

That’s just this year alone. In 2005 there were 136 breaches reported to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and 4,500 reported since then until 2015. 816 million people had their data exposed and the problem is only worsening. In 2014, according to the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, analyzing over 2,100 breaches found 700 million records were exposed in that year alone.

And that’s just what we know of!

While some are less vulnerable to cyber-criminals simply by not putting any of their information online, this doesn’t make one completely safe. Everywhere you go has technology that is recording and storing data and the infrastructure for Cyber-Security experts and governments to fight breaches still lags behind criminals. With more and more sensitive and personal data about you, from credit card numbers, social security numbers, banking information, to personal cell phone numbers, addresses, family members and even medical history, floating around online, it pays to be conscious of the problem growing around us.

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim, Reduce Vulnerability and Secure Your Sensitive Data.

Despite significant risks, we must take that affects our own security in order to be a part of society, such as social security, banking, health insurance, etc., there are still steps you can take to keep you and your family’s personal information safe.

First thing is first, always use a VPN, or a virtual private network. VPNs allow users to browse the web safely and privately, hiding activity by routing your connection through servers, covering up your online actions. Most VPNs do cost money, those that are free are not trustworthy. Luckily these services range in cost from low to high, one of the best of them, NordVPN (also an affiliate to this website) is one of the most affordable. Furthermore, insecure web browsers, like google chrome, are a highly dangerous liability, instead, Firefox or other more privacy centered browsers provide you with a significant advantage against cyber-criminals. For iPhone and Android users, Firefox Focus (not a sponsor) is excellent, deleting your browsing history (fellow dudes, I’m looking at you), your cookies, cache, etc. automatically every time you close the app.

Another great way to keep yourself safe is to use password managers, which save and encrypt your passwords as well as generate new ones for you, leaving you with the burden of only remembering the one password (for the manager) and not all of them at once. But don’t stop there. Do your homework and find out what the best course of action you can take to enhance your internet security.

I highly recommend watching this video and reading this article if you want to learn more about how you can keep your information safe.

Finally, Hold Them Accountable.

Although there are many, many steps one can take to secure their own data to the best of their ability, the burden still falls on the shoulders of the Tech Giants that helped to create this mess in the first place. Sure, many didn’t expect every item in their homes to suddenly become “smart” — though I’m sure some of us have given it some thought in our deepest nightmares — the take over of electronics are here and it is out of the control of the consumers.

Fact is, companies benefit too much from gathering this data, even with the negative backlash. Knowledge is power and the more knowledge that can be accumulated, the more powerful any entity can become. Governments clamor for backdoors into technologies, generating vulnerabilities and businesses dream of near perfect ad targeting, even attempting to calculate consumer’s offline locations. So what are we to do?

It’s our data that’s at risk, not theirs. We need to take charge of it. Ask your local congressman to pass laws to protect people’s most intimate information from the prying eyes of criminals and malicious profiteers. Furthermore, we should demand IoT (Internet of Things) cyber-security upgrades as well as more accountability for breaches from corporations not taking the necessary steps to keep information under lock and key.

Many of us worried when we found out about the Equifax leak, what would happen to our credit scores? The number that nearly dictates our level of success in life, by how much we are held back and by how much we are propelled! Who is held accountable if your score lowers dramatically because of the fault of a 3rd party agency’s malicious neglect? These are questions consumers need to ask themselves as we end 2018 and begin a tumultuous, new year.

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