Is our data safe online?

There’s been a lot of stories about online security in the last week. Stories of data being stolen, details being leaked and even companies tracking your every move. 

The big story of the last few weeks was of course the Playstation Network hack which has led the entire gaming network to remain offline for the past 2 weeks. More worrying is the fact that Sony owned up 1 week after the network was taken down, that users personal details may have been compromised. This included names, addresses and e-mail addresses but apparently no credit card details.

Of course this is not the first time that this sort of information has been hacked into or stolen. Only last month, I received an e-mail from online retailer Play.com, revealing that their database had been hacked leading certain personal details to have been stolen. Before that, online group ‘anonymous’ leaked a massive amount of personal data online in protest for the WikiLeaks website shutdown.

So if all this has been going on for years, why do we still hand over our information so willingly?

We all do this, every single day. Be it an organisation seen as trustworthy – such as a Bank (OK maybe not) or an online retailer – to companies that could be doing anything with this data – such as a web hosting website. You wouldn’t give the stranger on the street this info, or even if you were buying from a high-street retailer, so why give it to a faceless website?

The reason is obviously because although these services all demand a lot of information from us (sometimes a lot more than we should be willing to give), this is the only way to get them. We have to reveal who we are, where we’re from and often what our bank details are. Some of them need this info to function (obviously a shop needs to know where to send your packages), but others don’t and you do have to worry where your data is going.

You just have to put your trust in these companies, something not easily done when you can see how easily Sony – a computer company’s – data was hacked.

I’ll move on to something slightly different now, namely Apple and the recent ‘breaking’ story that iPhone’s track and store your location. I put breaking in inverted comma’s as this information has been widely available for well over a year, it’s only now that someone has sued the company over it.

Apple say that this has been done to help the phone log cell towers and wifi points so it can track where you are quicker when you want it to (with the location services on the phone). Whether this is true or not is hard to tell, but the fact of the matter is that all of these phones keep this data. Google have admitted that their Android phones not only track you, but send this data back to advertisers.

And in a way, perhaps we shouldn’t care about this. After all, people willingly give away their location on Twitter and Facebook all the time. You’d have to be pretty foolish to think that information isn’t going to be used by advertisers. If we’re so happy to give away this information, why should there be an uproar when it’s found out that our phones have been doing it anyway?

The reason stems back to what I said earlier about personal details, trust in companies. Completely understandably, we have little trust in these companies – but the question remains, what will we do about it.

The answer is and probably always will be nothing. You can stop buying one companies products in protest, but the others are all just as bad. Unless you have your own bank, shop, e-mail service and can make a smart-phone you will have to keep relying on giving your data to companies and trusting that they can keep it safe and wont abuse it.

Hopefully, those we trust with data are redoubling their efforts to keep it safe (I’m sure Sony are, this has hardly worked well for them), but it’s likely there are still thousands that don’t encrypt the stuff they save.

One thing we can do, is look after what little data we do still have. We don’t help ourselves by publishing every bit of info about our lives on Facebook – it isn’t as private as a lot of people think. Only publish things you don’t mind the whole world seeing online. It could well be there forever.

You can also encrypt your computer data quite easily, I have been with my iPhone to prevent anyone extracting the data tracking in the backups. Just search for ‘encrypt hard drive’ online.

But at then end of the day, maybe we are just making a bit of a fuss about nothing. With all the things we’ve signed and given to officials and companies throughout the years, everyone probably knows about you already, even me….

I don’t really.. or do I?

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One Response to Is our data safe online?

  1. griffithinsider says:

    Am writing a thesis on Public Trust in WikiLeaks, the Media and the Government and need to know what your opinions are. The online survey is multiple choice and will take approximately 10 minutes to complete. Please follow the link: http://www.kwiksurveys.com/?s=ILLLML_9669e09d. Would be great if you would encourage others to do the survey also.

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