The Harbinger Online

Protecting Your Privacy

DCP_0029 blacked face

Photo by Diana Percy

For better or for worse, it’s not hard to gain my trust. I don’t hide my birthday from even random friends on Facebook and I’ve even been known to give up my address and phone passwords to people I’ve just met. But this is information I am purposely sharing; information I know I am putting out there. What I am not ok with is the information ‘secretly’ being taken from me.

I have no family secrets to hide, no secret felony charges and (sadly) no altar egos to cover up, but I do enjoy the privacy of my life. I don’t need, and certainly don’t want, everyone I see at school knowing my entire life story. But due to a recent publicity around the use of data history in a criminal case, I am left wondering how much of my ‘private’ life is actually, well, private.

I’m sure 31-year-old James Bates didn’t think that his Amazon Alexa – Amazon’s latest intelligent personal assistant – could be used as proof in finding him guilty of murder. In the 2015 murder case the prosecution is pushing for Amazon to release recordings of the murder suspect’s smart speaker. Even when you’re not asking for Alexa to listen to your requests, she is always listening and recording your voice – paying attention for those certain keywords to “wake her up” and attend to your needs.

Even though I don’t own an Alexa myself, I would never suspect a black cylinder’s ability to analyze and listen to every word I spoke around “her.” Besides discovering the fact that this device is more creepy than helpful, I decided I wanted to know more about what other information is out there constantly about me.

It only took me one Google search – “how much information do companies take from us” – to make me seriously consider throwing my phone out the window.

You might as well put every internet user on house arrest, because each and every one of our searches, locations, purchases and conversations are heavily analyzed and stored by internet servers. No matter the size of their brand, most internet servers and big corporations monitor what we say, where we go, what we buy, our likes and dislikes and even who our friends are.

While companies could send out spies to keep an eye out on every single Internet user, they have a much more simpler way – analyzing our search histories. At first it seemed like a huge invasion of privacy to me, but looking back at it, I was embarrassed when I realized I agreed to these invasions. It was all “briefly” outlined to me in every terms and agreement document I’ve ever seen and scrolled to the bottom of and marked agree.

The Harvard Business Review says companies have access to just about any information they could want from me – my favorite Netflix shows, my address, my social media accounts (and passwords may I add) and even my bank account information and social security number. They have this ability due to the “cloud” all our data goes in; a network through which data passes between two end points. There’s no say in what information, pictures or locations I want saved from me; it’s all there.

These big corporations do have an explanation for why they feel the need to know us better than even our best friends do. Most of them have to deal with marketing strategy. The better they understand our likes and our buying patterns, the more they understand how to lock down a sale from us. They know I love workout clothes from Lululemon, skirts from Free People and shoes from Nordstroms and they bombard websites with ads from my favorite stores.

While all of the observing of your personal life seems like a win win for the consumer and the companies, this is what ultimately leads to data breaches – stolen identities, fraudulent crimes and even burglaries and abductions. Hackers can sneakily access credit card numbers, social security numbers, bank account information, all the information that could potentially build the hackers up and break us down.

If companies didn’t store our every location and credit card number in one server, then hacking could be significantly decreased in my opinion. Risking clients’ and consumer’s personal information seems like quite the cost for making a few extra sales for their company.

Big name stores even use geolocation – the Internet’s ability to know and track your location – to try and secure more sales. In what world would I want a bunch of tech nerds from Nordstrom knowing where I am?  As soon as a store realizes you are near or in one of their stores, they flood your inbox with emails of special discounts throughout the store or send you a coupon. My inbox is almost entirely full of emails from Forever 21, Urban Outfitters and Revolve.

I don’t see anyone complaining about receiving a good deal, but what about hackers knowing your every whereabout, or the last time you arrived at a certain location? These are the safety risks big corporations are putting their consumers in, just to try and increase their chances of making a sale.

Just one company can hold your credit card information, address and job location. You might have the same question as me: What is the benefit for me? This is the issue with companies withholding all this information from us; it benefits companies more than consumers, while putting those very consumers at risk.

To me, it seems simple. If companies limited the amount of information they take and store from us, or even reduce the time they save it for, the number of data breaches would decrease. Our most vital, private information wouldn’t be at such a risk for hacking.

The internet is and will continue to be one of the most used and most helpful inventions ever created, but with the privilege comes huge safety risks and the removal of your privacy. While the problem is on us to carefully read over every contract and agreement, companies have the choice to reduce the amount of information they reserve and we have to trust them to do anything in their ability to protect our ‘private’ lives.

But, every time I hit the ‘I agree to the terms and conditions’ box, I just can’t help but imagine a new chunk of my privacy being taken away from me.

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Emily Fey

Emily is the Co-Assistant Print Editor along with Lizzie Kahle. As a junior, she is excited to dive deeper into InDesign and Google Docs during her third year on staff. Apart from Harbinger, she is a part of Golf and Lacrosse here at East. If you are feeling generous, her Chipotle order is a bowl with LOTS of brown rice, black beans, fajitas, steak, cheese and guac (yes I expect you to pay extra). Read Full »

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