Online Data and Data Mining: A 21st Century Gold Rush and the Extinction of Privacy

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Let me begin with a scary statistic: 80% of our online/digital information has been hacked at some point. That includes private information (name, residence, phone, financials, travel, etc.), medical (records, insurance, etc.), and DNA (Ancestry, 23andMe, etc.).

A Miner’s Paradise

I’ve received more than a few emails from holders of private information (Experian, Equifax, Google, etc.) stating that my personal information may have been hacked. For the Equifax breach I was provided with a link in their site to inquire whether my personal data, including my SSN, was compromised and available on the Dark Web. It was. And likely still is. Once our personal information is stolen there’s little to no chance of protecting it ever again. Privacy and protection go down while our vigilance goes up in a never-ending spiral.

Even apps are information-sucking black holes in the technology universe. They mine data from various levels of access they have to your phone. Even your flashlight app can be selling the data it gathers about you. Apps provide a false sense of convenience; using a web browser like Duck Duck Go is a better choice because browsers can’t access as much of your personal information. Sure, it might take a bit longer… we’re all in such a hurry we don’t take the time to think about the consequences of our actions, no matter how well-intended.

Protect, Protect, Protect

It now takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort to protect our online lives. The to-do lists written by experts in the fields of security and technology are long and arduous to complete. I’m researching some of this information while I write this post and the sheer volume of information I could read through is overwhelming. I simply don’t have the time or the wherewithal (but I’ve included some links below if you do). I decided some time ago that the Digital Age seriously complicates our lives more than it simplifies. We’re tricked by marketing into participating because it provides some measure of ‘convenience’. I miss a simple no-tech/low-tech life and I may go back to one at some point in time as I tire of the endless onslaught of technology and security threats (but no rotary phone again, please, once was enough).

Say Bye-Bye

As we have become ever-connected to everyone and everything on the planet, privacy is going the way of the dodo bird. Data mining companies like Google, for example, are representative of the no-stone-left-unturned gold rush for our information. Data is the new oil and data mining companies are raking in millions by selling us out to marketing companies – and who knows who else – that can personalize ads and suck us in even more.

Pulling Back on the Reins

In an attempt to rein in some of this rampant data mining, a lawyer from Massachusetts is suing Google for search results containing his name and information. Matthew Sandofsky filed the suit in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. He claims that Google and similar companies “violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) because employers and landlords can use the search engine to learn about a potential employee or tenant.” His argument is that Google should be considered a consumer reporting agency “because it doesn’t ensure the accuracy or privacy in what information it collects and shares about people.” He wants the Court to decide whether Google needs our permission before producing search results (which he refers to as “reports”) and ensure the accuracy of the information.

Would you want Google or some other data mining company to first ask permission to produce a result of your information? Would you want them to make sure the information about you is correct and current? I’m thinking we’re heading that way anyway, since more and more people want to have more control over their online data. Maybe it will make us safer. Maybe it will only make us feel safer. 

I don’t know if his lawsuit has any teeth but I’m very curious what the District Court will decide. Since so much personal information can be gleaned from Google searches (I ran my name a few years ago and got 96,000 hits), I’m thinking that privacy laws and laws concerning data mining and access need to catch up with technology – and fast. I’m beginning to think that the only way to protect privacy is to just shut it all off – online, apps, etc. Walk away. And that may be what some will do if these breaches continue to worsen (and they will). Others will pare down to the bare necessities of digital life.

Ask yourself these questions:

What technological conveniences can or will you live without? How do you protect yourself, if at all, online?

Resource links: 

  1. NPR Article
  2. MA Lawyer sues Google
  3. Norton article
  4. Pew Research

#cybersecurity #besafeonline #datamining #google #duckduckgo #strongpasswords #solarwindsbreach #cellphonesecurity #androidsecurity #iphonesecurity

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