Victims All

The news talks fairly consistently about privacy violations. In recent times we’ve heard that all of the major data miners, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and more have been hacked by government snooping, providers like Verizon and T-Mobile and other data carriers complain about governmental snooping, and let’s not forget the revelations of Edward Snowden regarding the government’s spying activities. But let’s take a look at the data miners and carriers and the amount of information they amass about us. The governments or black hats out there couldn’t be snooping this data if we hadn’t given it over to these entities in the first place. It was bad enough the amount of information we forked over through the use of customer loyalty cards, our credit and debit cards, and the miles of piles of surveys we all flocked to fill out. The information that credit reporting agencies has gotten from us is staggering, as is the Social Security Administration. (Remember all the fuss about social security numbers a decade or o ago? Well, those who decried against sharing social security numbers were absolutely right!) I recently made a purchase from TigerDirect and as I was checking out, they asked me a number of questions to “prove” I was me. They asked their questions in a round about way, but it was very obvious that they knew where I lived, what sort of car I drove, who held my mortgage, who some of my friends were and more. The company said they were comparing my answers to information gleaned from the Social Security Administration as a means of verification. I aborted the transaction on the spot and bought my item elsewhere, where they didn’t pry so freely and deeply into my private affairs. Sure, Identity Theft is a huge problem, but it is such a problem because way too much of our personal information is out there, and easily available. In the case of TigerDirect, the SSA was very helpful forking over my private info. I’m outraged by it.

Certainly I don’t help myself by writing a blog that reveals lots of private information. But the fact is, I control what I choose to reveal. I don’t believe that agencies of the government should be sharing my information, especially in cahoots with private organizations like the various credit reporting agencies. I have a decent credit rating that I’ve worked hard to build and I don’t need the government or private companies making it easier for thieves to get at my information to misuse it.

Likewise, the information that we make available through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, G+ and other social media shouldn’t be the information feeding frenzy they are either. In spite of the assurances of the operators of how we are in charge of who gets to see what, that’s hogwash. Read the fine print in the user agreements and privacy policy and you’ll get an idea of what they do with your info, but never the full picture. When we run apps that share or access our social media and email accounts, we are effectively giving even more unknown people access to our data.

Now we have the emergence of the Clouds. Free storage space that is ours, all ours, to store and access our info from any of our devices. But check out the cloud explanations of data storage and you’ll see that they explain that if you upload a copy of something that someone else has uploaded, they will only keep one copy of it and allow both uploaders to access the single copy. Right there is an explanation that you and your designees are not the only ones who can access your data. Companies like Dropbox, Amazon and Google save money and storage space by using this method. ┬áPlus that, the clouds are space that are part of the targets of unauthorized information retrieval (what Snowden gave solid evidence of). Using any cloud system is just another way of hanging private elements of your life out there. When you consider that the cloud operators also inform you that they will use data you have stored to learn about you so they can help merchants and providers offer you a more tailored Internet experience, you don’t need much more proof to realize that they’re saying that your data is anything but private. The same holds true of free email accounts from the major providers like Gmail, Yahoo, and the like. It’s free swim time at the country club pool and all of the non-member rifraf is invited.

The thing is, for a hundred bucks you can get yourself a cloud that is private. They are what’s called a NAS, or Network Access Storage. It’s a disk drive with an ethernet connection that you hook up to your home network, plugging it into the back of your wireless router or whatever you have to distribute your Internet through the house. The device comes with software that you install on your PC, Mac or mobile devices and allows you to access the information. Plus that, you can encrypt the stored contents as well as password protecting your data by the folder or individual file. You get to specify who gets at what. Period. It’s a much better solution than letting your data sit under someone else’s control shared with who knows who.

Reading different articles, it seems that people under thirty are abandoning sites like Facebook in droves. They have turned to point to point services that allow you to share video, photo and text information with specific lists of people, bypassing all of the terms of service pratfalls of social media sites. ┬áThis has, along with making it difficult to be bullied, broadcast info to all, and avoiding attracting predators offers a lot more privacy. Youth seems to find the best utilization of technology, and stay ahead of the curve, so it’s a good idea to watch their trends. We can all learn from our young ones.

Changing habits is difficult. We tend to get into a comfort zone and become complacent with it in spite of garish and obvious warning signs. But the facts are clear; privacy takes effort thanks to technology and the aims of government and business. Let’s not forget the criminal element and how the ease of retrieving personal data has made digital crime the largest category of loss. It is now predicted that 100% of those who use any form of digital transactions will experience Identity Theft or other digital loss. 100% will suffer at least some damage to their credit history that’s undeserved. That’s almost everybody. Perhaps that’s why PayPal, Google Wallet and Amazon Payments are becoming so popular. PayPal the definitive best, but they all offer protection as well as convenience. I happen to be a PayPal enthusiast since they managed to save my business literally thousands of dollars. I now recommend their services to everyone for personal and business transactions. Those near miss losses are also perhaps why I’m so sensitive to the promulgation of private data. Sure, privacy is an issue, but self protection is my goal.

I suggest that you make it yours. It will require you to try a few new things, but fortunately, they’re all easy. From using private mail servers to personal clouds to transaction protection services, your personal safety and data security gets a lot better.