Private Lives, Prying Eyes

The spate of new technologies that have come our way have prompted a whole new level of openness that we’ve never seen before. We now have location-aware applications, where members of our network can find out our exact position in the world in real time with just a few swipes, taps, or clicks. We live in a world of 24-hour camera surveillance, where we can involuntarily or voluntarily broadcast our lives over TV or on the Internet. We now have an “open” Web, where we can freely create, innovate, and express ourselves without having to ask permission from others. This openness offers both dangers and opportunities to both your personal and professional life.

Creepy stalking app serves as wakeup call

The removal of the legit Girls Around Me app in multiple app markets recently became a newsworthy item in the tech world. The creepy Russian-made geo-location app in question allowed users to stalk and find personal information about gals in a neighborhood through Foursquare, and eventually, Facebook. Once installed on your device, it connects to your Facebook profile (giving out your information in the process) to allow you to see identities – full names, profile photos, and other info – depending on the level of privacy a user has applied.

The developers at iFree didn’t do anything illegal. They didn’t hack into any service or forcibly invade private profiles; everything was based on what was already posted for public consumption. Linking your Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and other online accounts together posts a great risk, and the Girls Around Me app (and its subsequent downfall) is yet another reminder that we have the responsibility to protect our own privacy once we dip our feet into the world of social media and the Internet in general.

Password leaks here and there

In early June of 2012, rumors circulated that millions of LinkedIn passwords were subject to a security breach. A Russian hacker said he stole 6.5 million encrypted passwords, which heposted online to ensure he had the claim to fame. LinkedIn later confirmed the rumors to be true and has since announced several preventive measures for the compromised users.

A broader question people should ask now is what giants like LinkedIn are doing to ensure that the kind of business intelligence that goes into the site doesn’t get exposed to, say, advertisers, that are drooling over this treasure trove. Unlike Facebook or Twitter where users can create faux accounts, people tend to put real professional information in sites like LinkedIn.

Keeping your privacy in tact in a public world

Feeling a little paranoid now? Don’t be. Virtually everyone’s vulnerable. It’s very hard to preach about keeping your personal information safe in this seemingly open tech world, away from the prying eyes of others. But it all starts with being selective about the things you post and the people you share these posts with. Keep in mind that anything that you post on the internet will never be private again.

Second would be to use countermeasures. Change your passwords as often as you can, and choose strong ones while you’re at it. When using your phone for business purposes, use business phone apps such as RingCentral’s to hide your personal number from business contacts when making calls. Use computer and mobile security software like Kaspersky’s or ESET’s to keep your information safe. Practice sending private messages instead of posting public status messages.

Finally, these three words: Terms of Service. Always read the fine print before signing up for anything and identify what you can and you can’t do.

We live in public, indeed. We may want to live completely private lives, but there will always be prying eyes out to get us wherever we go. With a little selectiveness and self-control, we can always choose to minimize harm.