Vigilance Needed

Published February 26, 2019, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Rom Feria

Since the first quarter of 2018 to date, there’s never a dull moment when it comes to privacy violations from Facebook. Facebook never ceases to surprise us (well, it is no longer surprising, though) on how they abused what’s left of the trust users gave them. Facebook, however, is not alone in this business — the business of providing “free” products and services in exchange for collecting everything about you. Amazon, Google, YouTube, Twitter, you name it, they do collect your personal data, whether in the open or otherwise. What makes this behavior even more appalling is the fact that users tolerate it by continuing to use their products and services. However, what is even worse than this is smaller and newer startups are doing the same thing!

I have been monitoring the local Philippine startup scene, and it makes me happy each time one gets featured by the Philippine media. I usually take extra effort in checking Philippine startups that release mobile applications — I usually go to their website to check their privacy policies, then go to the App Store or Play Store to check the permissions they’re requesting from users, and privacy policies (sometimes they’re different, or worse, there’s none!). Most of these startups. unfortunately, follow the same tactics as Facebook, i.e., they all provide their services for *free* in exchange for your data! It really is unfortunate! And worse, they often share this with the likes of Facebook and Google, at the very least.

Vigilance! Yes, you need to be vigilant when signing up for free services, whether on the web or thru a mobile application. You need to be extra careful when providing your full name, e-mail address, and phone numbers. Whilst it is not easy to be always on your toes, bordering on paranoia, but it pays to be extra careful before giving away your personal data. There are several questions that you can ask yourself to ensure that you minimize exposing your personal data:

1. Does it really need my personal information? Often times, registering for a username and a password is all it takes to use an app or online service. Think twice before giving up your home address, phone number, gender, and age.

2. How would they use your data and for how long? Be concerned when a mobile app or online service privacy policy explicitly states that your personal data will be shared to third-parties, especially advertisers (or worse, Facebook and Google!).
Some services will require personal data for verification purposes, however, check how long they will keep it. Anything longer than 12 months is a red flag. Personally, I think a year to keep your personal information is enough for legal purposes.

3. Does it really need those device permissions? A lot of developers, unfortunately, have screwed up moral compasses. Yes, I say this because they often request for permission to access different sensors from your device without actually needing it to deliver their services. Be extra careful when approving access to location, mic, camera, SMS, contacts/address book, calendar, and storage!

4. Does it require Facebook or Gmail login? Some applications and online services take advantage of Facebook and Google to handle account authentication and verification. Whilst this takes a lot of friction during on-boarding (when you sign-up) or when logging in (no need to handle separate username and passwords, and risk having it hacked), it provides Facebook and Google monitoring capabilities!

5. Does it use third-party analytics? Most online services (and mobile applications) are guilty of using analytics gathering application libraries, e.g. Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel, Flurry, on their sites or apps. All data collected by these analytics codes are often shared with these external companies. If you have a way to block access to these services (like by using Pi-Hole.net), please do.

In today’s surveillance economy, users need vigilance to limit companies from unnecessarily collecting your personal data. It is *not* easy, but it is not impossible. Today, data is the most valuable resource — don’t just give it away for free.

 
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