Tag Archives: New York Times

The price of convenience

I’ve been concerned about online privacy for a couple of years now, but the article I just read still shocked me. It’s titled ‘Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, And They’re Not Keeping It Secret’.

You can read the entire article here:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/12/10/business/location-data-privacy-apps.html

I’ve had geo location turned off on my phone since I bought it, but until today, I always felt a little silly; was I being paranoid for no real reason?

You may be wondering that too, but the case study of Lisa Magrin, a 46-year-old math teacher, may change your mind. It certainly confirmed my fears.

An app on the device [smart phone] gathered her location information, which was then sold without her knowledge. It recorded her whereabouts as often as every two seconds, according to a database of more than a million phones in the New York area that was reviewed by The New York Times. While Ms. Magrin’s identity was not disclosed in those records, The Times was able to easily connect her to that dot.

Lisa Magrin’s movements over a four month period

Lisa Magrin’s every single move was recorded…without her knowledge or consent. Then that information was sold. The Times article doesn’t mention who or what the information was sold to, but there’s a good chance it was sold to an ad network that collated her location data with her online data – Facebook comments, Instagram pictures, websites she visited, products she bought with her credit card, all those convenient little things we take for granted every day.

That’s a lot of information, and it’s meant to be anonymous, but what does anonymous actually mean? When your ‘anonymous’ data knows where you live and can track everything you do, the fact that it doesn’t automatically name you means nothing.

The ad networks that mine this data don’t need your name to target you for advertising. But that information is for sale, and there are no guarantees that the buyer will be a ‘harmless’ advertiser.

“Pffft! I have nothing to hide,” you say. “Besides, who’d want to buy my boring info anyway?”

Nothing to hide, huh? I wonder.

Does your wife know you visit that massage parlour for a quickie when you should be at squash?

Does your Mum know you spend hours on that porn site?

Do you use your birthday as the password for every online game you play?

Are you absolutely sure there’s nothing you wouldn’t want your co-workers to know about you?

As for who would want to buy that boring information, hackers would, and stalkers, or your abusive ex-husband perhaps. The list is endless, and the danger is real, not just for you, personally, but for those near you who may be targeted via information you unwittingly provide.

Stealing this kind of information will become illegal eventually, but until then you have to ask yourself – is that little bit of convenience really worth it? Or is your life too high a price to pay?

Meeks

p.s. My thanks to Chris the StoryReadingApe for this point:

Some of the things that can happen when your data is hacked can also apply to data that’s been sold to hackers, either directly or indirectly.


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