Do you remember when the greatest threat to our personal information was a telemarketer not respecting the National Do-Not-Call list? The excitement of a call at 8pm at night – did I win the lottery? Is mom ok? And then the disappointment of realizing the call was a solicitation from yet another credit card company. It was more than disappointing. It was annoying.
I recently caught up with a dear friend of mine, with whom I hadn't spoken in about five years. It was great to hear her voice and rekindle our friendship. Later that evening, I logged on to a social media platform and noticed a funny thing: my friend's new fiancé - someone whose name I had never heard until this very day – was coincidentally a "suggested friend". My friend, herself, was not on this particular social media application, so this was not a mutual connection highlighted by her recent engagement. I had to wonder… was it possible that the app had listened to my phone conversation and extracted his name? I had heard rumors that other devices such as Amazon's Alexa and Android's "Ok Google" command were constantly listening to conversations for action prompts, so I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise to think yet another social application could have similar interests. A quick online search led to pages of articles from TechTimes to Forbes that both promoted this idea of privacy invasion and equally denounced any wrongdoing, highlighting a public denial of these allegations from the company in question. However, my personal judgment found the fiancé's name recognition to be too blatant a coincidence to ignore. What else were they listening to, and for what purpose? I felt as though my intimate, private conversation had been violated; I had not authorized a third party to join my conversation. This couldn't possibly be the new face of telemarketing. This was more than annoying. This was scary.
Data Privacy Day, or Data Protection Day as it is known in Europe, is an international holiday that was celebrated recently. What originally started with a mission to raise awareness about data protection has grown into a worldwide movement to educate technology users and promote tools that are available to help keep private data private. It also creates a dialogue amongst users, companies, universities, governments, and other parties, which is a great step to driving action.
We have all seen reminders to change or strengthen our passwords, or have taken online corporate trainings that identify types of data fraud as well as measures we can take to help prevent a breach. Perhaps we pay attention and sharpen our security efforts – or perhaps we shrug it off as repetitive noise. There is an element of trust we have in the internet – not to mention human nature – that harbors false assurances of our private information remaining safe. "I have set a password; therefore only I can access my account", or "The papers are placed on my desktop; therefore only I can see them." It is only when that control is lost that we realize how vulnerable sensitive information becomes. Just ask any corporation who has experienced a cyber attack, or a friend who has had their identity stolen.
I would like to think we still can trust the amazing offerings of the World Wide Web, data-sharing applications and other online interface platforms, especially because technology is continuously improving. However it is up to us, the users, to ensure we are doing our part in keeping this information secure. I was alarmed about the intrusion of my social network app. I adjusted my settings for that app, adjusted my behavior so as to make sure I close all apps as soon as I have finished using them, and yes, I changed my password. What steps are you taking to ensure your private data remains private?