Your Online Data isn’t as Safe as You’d Like to Believe

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In the digital age we enjoy today, data is king. And not taking proper care of it can lead to disastrous consequences. This may result in some companies losing millions of dollars and having a permanently tarred reputation, not to mention the harm done to the individuals whose data was compromised.

One would think that in this kind of world, those in charge of guarding your sensitive information would keep it under lock and key, letting but a very select few access it in any capacity. You certainly wouldn’t appreciate it if Facebook, for example, compiled your call history and sold it to other parties. Furthermore, you probably trust these companies to take every step necessary to fend off hackers and prevent glitches from exposing your information to the world.

But does this kind of thing happen, and if so, to what extent? Just what is being done to the data you divulge to the businesses you rely on? And how safe is it from ill-intentioned hands?

Questionable Treatment of Data

Unfortunately, the hypothetical example of Facebook is anything but fictional. Well, at least the data collecting part of it is. In March of 2018, it was revealed that the social media giant has been accumulating Android users’ call and SMS histories for years. Given how many people use Facebook, you can imagine the immense amount of information they have collected in that time.

While the high-ups at Facebook vehemently deny that they allow access to this data to any apps or businesses, the notion of so much data in one place is still a cause for alarm. This leaves it vulnerable to hacking efforts with more severe consequences.

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However, Facebook is far from the only enterprise that does a little more with your data than you think. Companies often use the data they collected to create more precise advertising. This, by definition, makes other companies involved in how your data gets used, though it’s more likely in the form of demographics, rather than details about individuals.

Nevertheless, having personal information about you handed off to God knows which businesses without your approval doesn’t exactly scream “secure”. And should a company you trusted give more compromising information, it leaves you more vulnerable to fraud, identity theft, and other nasty affairs.

Data Breaches

It’s not only the way companies gather or handle people’s sensitive information that makes the public sweat. Another common fear is the personal data’s vulnerability to hackers. Data breaches are depressingly common: A total of 4.5 billion records were compromised in H1 2018 alone.

Many of these are minuscule in the grand scheme of things, but so many of them occur that it presents a serious problem overall. Beyond that, some manage to cause millions of dollars of damage. These are the ones you’ve seen in the news, and they often serve to highlight the dangers of cyber crime and the absolute necessity of cyber security.

Besides the “unfounded” concern over Facebook selling information “under the counter”, people are understandably malicious as it can cause massive data leaks. In April 2019, a data breach resulted in the leaking of 540 million users’ records flooding the Internet. The blame was put on a media company based in Mexico, which exposed 146 GB worth of account IDs and user activities on Facebook.

Another key case was the Yahoo security breach that took place in 2013-2014. In 2016, some two years after the event, Yahoo revealed that it had suffered a data leak of unimaginable proportions. An attack led to 500 million users having their names, phone numbers, addresses and more released to the public. This cost the company around 4 billion dollars. The number of affected users isn’t exactly clear, and some claimed that all Yahoo users were in one way or another impacted by the breach.

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Despite being the ones that hit the headlines, it isn’t only the big name companies that run the risk of being targeted like this. Granted, a hacker can get a hold of a lot more data from them, but smaller businesses often prove more favourable, since they rarely enforce cyber security measures strong enough to stop a more powerful offence.

Cases like these regularly remind us that the information we entrust isn’t necessarily safe. Some businesses take liberties with it, others are neglectful of it, and sometimes accidents or coordinated criminal efforts catch everyone with their pants off, so to speak.

As previously stated, data is extremely valuable and sought after nowadays, so you should be careful where you share it. Stay updated on companies’ privacy policies, get informed on their history regarding data, and take the necessary precautions to protect yourself.

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