21 Apr 2018 16:52 IST

Taking care of personal data

Ultimately, the onus of protecting our privacy and personal data lies with us

I’m sure you would have heard about the controversy surrounding Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data, and the subsequent developments regarding data protection and privacy control.

Although a lot of finger-pointing has happened, with the blame for allowing personal data to be accessed and compromising people’s privacy being shifted, the fact remains that ultimately, the onus of protecting our privacy and personal data lies with us.

There is an old saying: anything is a secret only till it remains with you. If shared with even one other person, it ceases to remain a secret. The same is applicable to our personal information and data as well.

What is being said here is neither new, nor is it rocket science. The question arises then as to why people are so lax with their personal data.

There are two root causes for this:

Ease of use

Increasingly, users are seeking ease of use. This leads to online behaviour where the user ends up leaving lots of data behind for anyone to access and use — or rather, misuse. Here are some common instances driven by the need for ease:

~ Being logged in always: Whether it is an email account or online shopping site, most people remain logged in without signing out. They do not want to go through the effort of logging in every time.

A logged in user is basically broadcasting to the virtual world their every activity online. Ideally, this information should be safe and secure in your personal computer or laptop. But this is often not the case.

A simple enough example is the advertisements you start seeing on your social media page or email, after you have browsed for a product online . How did that happen? It happened because the two sites shared information through cookies.

Another instance relating to the ease of use is the increasing use of mobile apps. All these apps require you to sign in, and signing out every time is a pain. The easier way would be to remain logged in the entire time.

The fact that the smartphone is always with us and can be locked gives us a false sense of security. Although this helps to some extent, the data and information about your usage, preferences and other private details are constantly being broadcast to anyone who knows how to get this information.

~ Online laziness: Clearing the cache and deleting the cookies is a basic practice when browsing. However, very few people do this. This means that the cookies on your device are collecting lots of information about you.

Another such example is turning off the location tracking. Although this is definitely required for things like booking a cab, it is not needed for many other apps. Yet, most ask permission to switch on location tracking, and many users do not take the effort of turning it off when not required.

(Part 2 of this article will be uploaded in a fortnight)

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