What’s your digital privacy worth?
Giving up on today’s free products and services may not be practical for everyone, but APC’s editor reckons you can still negotiate a better deal.
The old adage that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” has perhaps never been more true than in our current age of ubiquitous ‘free’ digital products and services. As we’ve all been rudely made aware over the last few years, the price of services like Facebook and Google is, at the very least, some degree of your digital privacy.
The big tech companies do allow you to request a copy of all the data that’s been collected on you and, if you’ve been using a service for years, that can often add up to gigabytes of information. And it’s not just your search habits and likes that are being tracked, but also your movements in the real world. Google, for example, keeps a log of your location whenever you use its services (which, if you own an Android phone, is nearconstant) and, as was recently revealed, there’s currently no way to opt out of that collection — see page 58 for more details on that.
It’s not just free services that are collecting data on your habits, either. Microsoft has been criticised over the amount of ‘telemetry’ data it gathers in Windows 10.
So should you be worried? In a Western democracy, we thankfully have some safeguards on how this data can be used and steps continue to be made to further clarify and, often, further restrict this — Europe’s recent General Data Protection Regulation is a good example, and California’s recent passing of the Consumer Privacy Act shows that, even in the Silicon Valley heartland, strong privacy protections are still something people care about.
Most of these bigger services also do a good job of keeping your information secure from outside hackers, although there have been instances of misuse by individuals inside the company.
The good news is that you’ve got options when it comes to using these free services. You can switch to more privacy-focused ones (and we’ve outlined our favourite alternatives on page 48) or, at the very least you can get a better bargain by reducing the amount of information you’re divulging — which will at least reduce the size and complexity of that detailed dossier that every company keeps on you.
Personally, I’m largely happy doing the latter — although there are instances where I’ve chosen to use more private options, such as chat and web browsing.
What you’re willing to give up when it comes to privacy is, of course, a very personal question, but with this month’s superguide we hope to reduce some of the fog that surrounds the issue so you can make more informed decisions.