Is Technology Invading Your Privacy? Not in the ways you think.

It happened again. 2K, an American video game publisher, recently confirmed that hackers stole customers' personal data when they gained access to the company’s support desk. Every other day brings a news story of data stolen or technology invading someone’s privacy. Even Target managed to tell a woman’s family about her pregnancy before she could, thanks to the power of customer data.

The answer seems simple. Pay attention to what information you are giving to whom. But sometimes, the choice is out of your hands. In the classic Target example, the retail giant correctly guessed whether or not she was pregnant based on the items she bought on a typical trip to the grocery store. You need grocery shopping to live, so there’s no hiding from that.

So the worries grow. Is all technology stealing your data? Let’s take a look at technologies that cause privacy concerns.

Not Reading the Terms and Conditions

Odds are, you may have signed away your rights today. According to a Pew Research Study, about 25 percent of Americans handle daily requests to agree to a company’s privacy policy. Yet, most people don’t read what they are signing. The same study found that only 22 percent of people ever completely read the terms and conditions they agree to. Capitalizing on this trend, Gamestation changed its terms and conditions for April Fool’s Day 2010 to claim its customer’s immortal soul.

Besides losing your soul to April Fool's Day, is there a danger in not reading the terms and conditions? The reason that terms and conditions exist is to legally protect the company issuing them and explain to users under what legal circumstances they are utilizing the product/website. Clicking “I agree” can be legally binding, even if you didn’t take the time to read the whole legal document.

However, the average terms and conditions are pretty innocuous. The items to pay attention to are if a company asks to sell your personal information, track you using a GPS, or monitor your device’s IP address. Even by accident, granting a company those rights presents a significant privacy breach.

Mmmmmm Digital Cookies

Almost every website asks you to accept cookies when you first access them. But what does that even mean? Cookies are bits of code contained within your web browser that remember previous actions taken online — like location settings, items left in your cart, and much more. When you visit a website, cookies allow sites to offer a more customized user experience.

We may be facing the end of digital cookies. Apple’s IOS 14.5 update in 2021 ended automatic opt-in to data collection, and Google's goal is to end third-party cookies by 2024. However, if they manage to stick around, it's essential to understand how cookies impact your privacy.

Cookies cannot steal private information stored on your computer. However, tracking all your Internet browsing does result in a detailed profile of your interests. So depending on how creepy you find hyper-specific ads will determine how much of a privacy violation cookies are to you.

Social Media

Between Facebook, TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter, and all the other social media platforms, there are many options for putting your life online. While it may be normal to have multiple social media accounts, the big question remains: how much of your life is it safe to put online?

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The obvious answer is no uploading pictures of personal documents, bills, or credit cards online. The less obvious is not letting people know when you’re going to be out of town. The Bling Ring, a criminal group that robbed celebrities in 2008, could work out if the celebrities were home or not based on their social media posts.

So the big decider on how much social media invades your privacy depends on what you post on it. It’s surprising how many ways people can apply the information you post online. Did you know hackers even check job listings at companies to see which companies might be vulnerable to cyber-attacks? Facebook even used photos posted on their site to develop Facial Recognition Software.

Facial Recognition

Facial recognition, the ability to match a real person’s face in a digital image or video frame to a recorded face in a database, has implications for our daily lives. This technology is currently deployed by governments and private companies for ID verification, identifying criminals, and much more. DeepFace, a deep learning facial recognition system trained by images uploaded by Facebook users, is said to recognize people at a 97% accuracy rating.

Facial recognition has attracted privacy concerns with merit. In 2021, Facebook stopped automatically identifying people in uploaded photos after the technology attracted government concerns and a class-action lawsuit. Part of this controversy comes from many people who uploaded pictures to Facebook and never imagined the images could be used to track or identify them.

 

As technology continues to evolve and improve, the question of what of our privacy we are willing to trade away will only persist. Terms and Conditions, Digital Cookies, Social Media, and Facial Recognition are just the latest technologies that cause concern. Tomorrow, it may be hologram technology that’s the cause for debate. Regardless, privacy is an important consideration when considering future technology.