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Riverbank Ruminations: The Future is Private (?)

Riverbank Ruminations: The Future is Private (?)

Observations from the banks of the technology river

Person of Interest

You are being watched. The government has a secret system- a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people – people like you. Crimes the government considered “irrelevant.”
This is the opening narration from a series called Person of Interest. The premise was based on government sponsored omnipresent surveillance and correlation of the acquired data to predict behavior. The protagonist was trying to prevent violent acts that the government would not. With so much video surveillance out there, and the ability of the government to monitor all types of communication, it doesn’t seem like that great a stretch. For now, as far as we know, it is fiction.

How Private is Your Data?

What is real, though, is the phenomenon of targeted ads. We see ads for things based on browsing history, purchase history, current location, email contents, and other cues that advertisers pull from who knows where. Sometimes this results in some backlash and the ‘guilty’ parties making promises to do better.
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook recently touted Facebook’s increased efforts at protecting your privacy with Facebook’s new mantra “The Future is Private”. There are many “conspiracy theories” surrounding Facebook and the use of data, and one is that Facebook is listening to our phones to send better ads. While there are a number of reasons not to believe this, some feel like it is not so far fetched.

Is Facebook Watching Me?

I have two Facebook accounts that I set up to allow me to save game data. It also allowed me to run the same game on my phone and my tablet as two different users and trade resources between them. Other than that, I never use Facebook. I don’t post, I don’t have any linked friends, I just have the two accounts.
What I find interesting is that while I was visiting my sister in California, I got friend suggestions for California entities. While we were bird watching in northwestern Ohio, I got suggestions from that part of the state. I never actively connected to Facebook during those times. Apparently my games did and Facebook took note of my physical location in order to make those suggestions. Maybe it’s just me, but that seems a bit creepy.
Since Amazon, Facebook, and others are so good at feeding targeted ads to us, it may be natural to worry about being spied on. Facebook demonstrated that it doesn’t take a breach for a company to lose control of data, with the Cambridge Analytica issue. So they know all about us and that data can find its way to almost anyone determined to get it, legally or illegally.

Treat Your Data Like a New Puppy

So can we believe Facebook? Is the future private? Probably not. Even if companies don’t overtly make data public, data breaches guarantee that our data will get out. What does that mean for you and I going forward?
In this case, data is kind of like a new puppy you have to train – which is another way of saying you have to watch it carefully. You need to make sure it doesn’t wet on the furniture or rugs, or that it doesn’t run away. You need to get a license for it and put some identification on it so if it does get lost, it can be returned to you. You need to take it to the vet regularly for shots and checkups. Data is similar.
Every time you get a new account (loan, mortgage, web account, social media account) it is like a new puppy. You don’t know how it will behave. You hope it will be well behaved but you have to watch it. If you can provide unique information when setting up the account (high school, first pet, etc) you could identify it if it gets leaked. You need to check up on your data. is one place to see if your data has been leaked. I have started creating new email addresses for accounts that need credit card information (Hulu, Netflix, etc). This, along with unique passwords and unique security question answers helps me to track my information. All this is a lot of work but I think my data is worth the effort. How do you feel about your data?
If you’re nervous about how your data may be used, reach out to Ashton. We can help!

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