With the recent publicity around the data mining of Facebook subscriber personal information most of us would probably say no. There has been a call for people to delete their Facebook accounts, and Elon Musk amongst other high profile people have, but even if you do the data is already stored and has been used many times over to power Facebook’s advertising algorithms. Deleting your account is not going to have much effect on existing stored data.
But I don’t use Facebook.
Yes it is true, there are people who do not have nor have ever had an account on Facebook or any other social media platform so they have nothing to worry about right?
Wrong! There is not a large corporation nor government department that does not hold data on their clients so if you are a living breathing citizen of any western country your personal data is stored in multiple locations and even shared between locations and other companies and agencies. Add to this the possibility of the data being stolen or more likely sold or manipulated in ways most of us couldn’t even comprehend and that data you think nobody has is becoming more valuable and manipulated like never before.
And then there are smaller data sources from your hairdresser to the local plumber storing your details for marketing, invoicing etc. Although the data stored is smaller in some ways it is even more of an issue in that it is often less secure. It only takes one unscrupulous (or maybe enterprising) employee to copy the data for nefarious purposes and you are in trouble. On selling your details to a marketing company is bad enough but in this day and age of identity theft there is enough information about us held on random small business databases to keep the dark web in business for years.
So even for technophobes if you use a tradesman, get your hair cut, have a smart phone, drive a car with sat nav, visit a doctor or a hospital or have ever completed a form for a government agency your personal data is on electronic file. That should have covered pretty much everyone so no, we have no privacy.
So what can we do?
Firstly there is the obvious of being ever vigilant with our own online security but that is all pointless when we hear of data mining by the likes of Cambridge Analytica, legal manipulation of our data for targeted marketing, see Facebook amongst others, and of course the various activities of the bad guys.
Limit what you put online by only sharing what you are happy to share with the knowledge that ads and information could be served up on the basis of what you share and always consider what would happen if this information was compromised. Then look critically at what comes into your newsfeed. If it is reflecting your social/political bias and you are happy with that then well and good but if you want to see opposing views then change what you post and/or look past your social media accounts for information.
There has been a loud and continual call for stronger sanctions on tech companies to redouble their efforts to make their products more secure but this is often mitigated by the commercial pressure for developers to bring products to market quickly. It could also be argued that consumers are a part of this problem as we are the ones wanting something newer and better.
There is no doubt governments around the world are under pressure to legislate and the data breach notification laws recently introduced in Australia are an example of this but as we know too well laws are, by their very nature, fallible with loopholes and exemptions as well as outright noncompliance often making an ass of them.
To state the obvious, it is a multi-faceted problem which we all have to own and work towards if not solving at least mitigating before the whole world is held to ransom.