How the Free Flow of Data Threatens Our Privacy

In January 2013, Popular Mechanics brought up a good point ”“ ”˜Who’s Spying on Us?’ We live in a society where the power and influence of the digital world has a far-reaching hand that touches our lives in ways we don’t expect. From the smartphones we program to emails traveling across the Internet, our personal information is constantly being collected (and is oftentimes stored in unknown locations). With the looming threat of hackers and increased government surveillance, the escalating free flow of data poses a detrimental threat to our privacy.

Who would have thought that we’d live in a day and age where playing a simple video game could lead to being entangled with the authorities ”“ all at the hands of a hacker. People can actually hack into the profile of an Xbox Live player, which contains billing address details, and use this information to do as they please.

There have been a handful of incidents where 911 call centers have become involved with people fabricating emergencies in a prank-style fashion ”“ a practice dubbed ”˜swatting.’ In the end, such pranks cost taxpayers thousands of dollars as the local police (and sometimes SWAT) have been pulled into the false reports. The pranks have not only involved the average citizen, but have also been used to terrorize celebrities and launch image attacks against politicians.

Unfortunately, Xbox Live is not the only service that places people in a vulnerable position, and there are plenty of other ways that hackers and other intrusions can find a way into your life.

Going beyond avoiding spyware on personal computers or having a weak Internet password, below are just a few things to become aware of if you’re looking to better protect your privacy:

  • Smartphone Applications: Smartphone apps consistently track the activity and location of users. The phones of today have GPS capabilities, connect to the Internet, and have the ability to run software ”“ all of which can contribute to locating the whereabouts of the phone’s user.
  • Facebook: With ever-changing policies, you never know who is scanning the millions of status updates and photos that appear on Facebook. Stalkers have a field day with the ability to keep tabs on their victims. We already know that higher learning institutions will check the Facebook profile of school applicants, and places of employment have fired workers for questionable behavior posted on a profile. Insurance companies have dismissed disability claims after seeing Mr. Smith partying in Cancun when he’s supposedly suffering from back pain. The police have also successfully used Facebook to make arrests.
  • Twitter: Many people have found out the hard way that a Tweet can lead to theft and robbery ”“ criminals have used both Twitter and Facebook to help plan a robbery when they learn that potential victims are on vacation.
  • Surveillance Cameras: There are surveillance cameras that can perform instant background checks on people by using facial recognition systems ”“ connecting ”˜suspects’ with mug shots stored in criminal databases. Some cameras can even read and monitor license plate activity.
  • Law Enforcement: Advancements in technology coupled with increasing changes in the law (regarding surveillance powers) have given police on the local, state and federal level the right to access records without the consent of an individual. The feds can also snoop into your previous purchases using what is called a ”˜warrentless hotwatch request.’
  • Credit Card Companies: If you’re wondering how or why certain marketers target you ”“ consider the fact that banks and credit card companies have a habit of selling your personal shopping data.
  • Online Stores: Online shopping can be quite convenient, but not when retailers use cookies, pixel tags, and the Internet to track your activities and then aggressively pursue you with targeted ads that just so ”˜happen’ to pop up while you’re browsing other sites.
  • Cell Phone Towers: Every time a mobile phone accesses a tower, a time-coded trail of the user’s movement is created ”“ something that law enforcement can get a hold of. It doesn’t even matter if you made a call or not for the tracking to take place.

There are many other ways that we are tracked ”“ proving that Big Brother is not the only thing ”˜watching’ us.