5 Unknown Ways You Could Have Possibly Shared Your Personal Data Online

If you believe that you are not a victim of data breach, you probably don’t realize it.
Kashyap Vyas

Data is the new oil; and it is giving enormous power to Internet companies as the “always online” culture continues to grow exponentially. Whether you’re going for a run, watching TV, listening to music or using your smart home device, almost every digital activity is traced, collecting massive amounts of data that is used in ways that you might have never thought of. The data volume is only increasing with the rise in a number of connected devices that rely on machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies.

For tech companies, however, data is crucial, in order to provide relevant experience to their customers and improve their products and services over their competitors. But the data that you provide to these companies or are asked to give is only a fraction of it. There are numerous other ways the data is collected from everything that you do, often without your knowledge or consent. Data privacy as such is a real concern, and we must know and take control of our data to protect ourselves from privacy abuses.

Here’s how you unknowingly shared your data, which is utilized in ways that you might have never thought of:

When You Hit the “Like” Button on Facebook

5 Unknown Ways You Could Have Possibly Shared Your Personal Data Online
Source: Pixabay

Clicking on “like” button or sharing content from various sources on your wall can reveal a tremendous amount of information about yourself, even if you’ve taken required steps to control privacy. A research conducted at Cambridge University showed that accessing digital records such as Facebook likes can predict a range of private traits and attributes such as sexual orientation, religious and political views, use of addictive substances along with your age and gender. The model developed by the researchers increase its prediction accuracy as you keep on liking more. Having your data public means you have little control over it. It is then easy to conduct accurate psychological profiling without your knowledge or consent.  

When You Installed a Smartphone App

5 Unknown Ways You Could Have Possibly Shared Your Personal Data Online
Source: The Hacker News

Whether you like it or not, more than 70% of smartphone apps report personal data to third-party tracking companies. Most of us grant access to our personal information whenever we install an app on our iOS or Android device. While some of these permissions are important for the app to function properly, the problem starts with the ability of the developer to share your data with any third-party companies. Many apps are developed combining functions that are pre-coded by other companies and developers, often termed as third-party libraries. For developers, these libraries help them to add features to their app without writing the code from scratch. But these libraries also collect user data and send to the company’s online server, or even share it with another company. There are even possibilities that the libraries are utilized by multiple apps, but are eventually from the same developer.

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For example, if a user gives permission to access location to one app and contacts permission to a different app that utilizes the same libraries, the developer can easily get a clear picture about a user’s profile. You might never know about this data breach because no app will tell you what software libraries have been used to build it.

When You Used Your Smart Device

5 Unknown Ways You Could Have Possibly Shared Your Personal Data Online
Source: Pixabay

Connected devices are growing in numbers, with growing concerns about the data security and privacy. A study conducted by Norwegian Consumer Council showed a significant flaw in smartwatches builds for children with total lack of consumer protection. With simple steps, one can easily hack the watch, track everything and can eavesdrop on children! A similar case is with connected cameras that you may have employed for home security. A simple search on IoT search Shodan for the word “IP Camera” will show you more than 3,000 results, making them vulnerable to hacking. It is easy to stream millions of private video feeds, and there are even viewers who are willing to pay. With connected devices like thermostats, health monitors, smart TVs and more, you can imagine the amount of data companies can keep track of, and its possible uses for economic benefits.

When You Used Free Wi-Fi

5 Unknown Ways You Could Have Possibly Shared Your Personal Data Online
Source: Mike Mozart/Flickr

Nothing is free in this world, and so is the case with free Wi-Fi. A report suggests that more than 87% of consumers have potentially put their information at risk while using free or public Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi’s are often built with an expectation of financial benefit by utilizing user’s personal data with advertisers. For example, the Transport for London (TfL) that offers free Wi-Fi has shown ways to collect information about the user from Wi-Fi systems and mobile signals to target relevant ads and offers in real-time. But for public, the message was different. The reason stated for data collection was to understand the journey patterns and improve the services.

When you Signed Up to Support Your Favourite Political Leader

5 Unknown Ways You Could Have Possibly Shared Your Personal Data Online
Source: Michael Vadon/Flickr

The data-driven world we live in is influencing everything from our creditworthiness and shopping habits to insurance decisions and even the way we vote. This possibility of influencing your voting decision was highlighted by CNN, when Rand Paul and Ted Cruz’s supporters started receiving emails from the Trump campaign. It happened because these failed candidates sold the email addresses of their supporters to other candidates and marketing companies through a data broker.

While these are just some of the examples of how your data is used without your consent, there are many more daily digital interactions that are uncontrolled and consumers are largely unaware of it. What is clear though is that information about and from us is currently the driving force behind the commercial and political landscapes. But, there are very few efforts seen to take on companies about data privacy concerns. What is possible though is to bring such companies under regulations such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that seeks to bring transparency on how the user’s personal data is processed and protected. And as a user, we can become more conscious while granting permissions to apps or agreeing to the privacy policy. While it is a shared responsibility between the consumers and the companies, it is still up to us to decide whether the service we are seeking is worth the price of our personal data.

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