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

Encryption your data. Digital Lock. Hacker attack and data breach. Big data with encrypted computer code. Safe your data. Cyber internet security and privacy concept. Database storage 3d illustration

Source: Google Images/datacenterknowledge.com

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

Writers: Let’s Be Safe and Secure in 2020

breaking news 2020 security (2)

Late fall and early winter have finally melded here in NorCal. We’ve had two very wet weeks but somewhat warm (low 60s) that has now given way to early winter weather (sunny and crispy, mid to low 50s) with some bone-chilling overnight temps (low 30s… brrrr). I’ve been battling what was likely a mild case of food poisoning (it didn’t feel mild when I was in the midst of heaving everything out of my body with gale force) so I’ve been neglectful of any and all writing. You just can’t concentrate when you feel like you’re on a roller coaster for four days straight. Now that my stomach (and bowels, sorry) are finally clear, I sit at my laptop racking my brain for a topic for this blog post.

Protect Yourself and Your Work

What comes to mind, as happens this time of year, is what to do come 2020 to protect our work and ourselves in this global digital world. I wrote a blog post on the Digital Legacy of writers and the importance of preparing your legacy (a part 2 post). What I’m thinking is, it’s even more important to be safe and secure in the digital world, which seems to be getting more difficult all the time as hackers and other ne’er-do-wells invade our privacy, our accounts, our lives. 

“You need to be concerned with writer scams popping up all over the web offering unauthorized copies of authors’ books or scamming writers out of money. Writer Beware is one of many sites that track predatory sites and unscrupulous people trying to steal our IP.” A Writer’s Legacy, Part 2

In my calendar for December 26th, I have a reminder to update my logins and passwords. I try to do this at the end of each year or by the end of January of the new year. Better to be safe than sorry, eh? Yeah, it’s a time-consuming pain, I won’t lie… but I do feel better once it’s complete. I feel like maybe I outsmarted the smart guys – at least for another year.

Kiss Gmail and Chrome Goodbye?

You also might want to consider new email accounts despite the obvious challenge to transferring all your saved emails. Google has a hold on me, granted, but I hope to wean myself of their grip little by little (and maybe for good, we’ll see). And I recently began using DuckDuckGo to reduce my online search transparency. They don’t keep a log of sites you visit because they figure it’s your business, not theirs.

Clean out unused apps, apps that track you wherever you are, apps that don’t serve the greater good in your life. Do you really NEED that word game app? Or that app that turns your face into something other than your face? Think about it; our connectivity, while convenient along with the ability to create a whole lot of goodness in the world, also enslaves us at a level unseen by previous generations. Be careful, is all I’m asking.

Storage Safety

Do you keep copies of your manuscripts/poems/works only on your computer? Not the safest option. Keep hard copies or a thumb drive stashed where only you can find them. Do you use cloud accounts? While I’m not 100% convinced they’re completely secure (seems nothing is, these days), it’s a good way to access your work from anywhere. Use strong passwords to better ensure their safety.

The Upsell – Never Fully Secure?

As I write this post, my AVG software pops up to tell me I’m being tracked, that companies are getting my personal information. Talk about timing. But just how much money do we need to spend to be safe? I’ve got a secure program but it’s always popping up to tell me I need more and more to keep my information safe. Beginning to sound like a snake oil salesman, if you ask me. When is enough actually enough for these data protection services?

My advice?

Keep it simple and safe in 2020.