Is your Private Data Ever Really Private?

From websites such as Yahoo! to retail companies such as Sony, the data of millions of customers has been stolen or hacked into despite security measures by these companies. Everything from social security numbers to birthdates have been taken and put up for sale to the highest bidder on places such as the dark web. Once your information is out there, it is available 5, 10 and 100 years from now. You cannot change your birthdate, and there is even more data that hackers keep on file that you likely are not aware of.

Whether stored in a company’s database or on your own personal computer or mobile device, your personal data is what keeps the gears of online purchases humming along smoothly. Protecting that information is essential, mainly because it reveals so much about your personal and financial life. Invasion of privacy is something to be taken very seriously in cyberspace, so asking whether your private data is really private is not a fair question – it is a question that must be answered by everyone you trust with your personal information.

But criminals aren’t the only ones who have a financial interest in your personal information. Popular web sites such as YouTube and Facebook skim your personal information for specific online habits such as where you are most likely to shop, what sites you visit the most, and even the habits of your friends, all with the idea of selling that information to companies who will then target their ads to sell you something. The idea that there is such a thing as a free program, application, or game is unrealistic. These apps will track your usage, among other things, and if you refuse to allow them to do it you will not have access to the app. It’s as simple as that.

Many people miss the agreement that allows the app to collect the data because it is written in the fine print of the Terms and Conditions. Ask yourself when was the last time you read an entire End User License Agreement – and understood all of it. Much of the consent to access your personal information is buried in the fine print, and after that your information is in the hands of the company you have agreed to allow to collect it. Depending on whom the company is, that can entail significant risk and a loss of privacy.

The bottom line to the cyberworld privacy issue is the same as the one in your everyday life: who do you trust? It takes time to develop trust in your person and business life, and the problem with cyberspace is that there is a 1 in 1,000,000 chance you will ever meet any of the people who work at the companies you entrust your private data to. So the answer to the question is no, your private data will never be private. But looking back on almost 2 decades of Internet progress, it seems that is the way it is supposed to be.