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Is our data personal anymore?

by Josef Kafka

Many websites, and social media networks, ask us to reveal a plethora of personal information. Often we reveal this without considering who may have access to it. Now more than ever it is important for computer users to both encrypt their data and be aware of the implications of what they are sharing. As more companies are forced to admit their data sharing practices, a veil of perceived privacy is slipping away and revealing that much of the personal life we share online is being viewed and harvested by unseen eyes. Sometimes this is for marketing purposes. In the most recent case it is performed by police services. 

The Golden State Killer identified  

In the 70s and 80s The Golden State Killer committed a string of murders and rapes. For decades he got away with his crimes. There seemed no way he could be caught for these historic, vile acts. However, in 2018 he was finally apprehended thanks to DNA evidence obtained from a genealogy website. Joseph DeAngelo, 72 is now in police custody and can be charged as one of the most notorious serial killers in Southern California. 

Many will sigh with relief at his capture, however the means by which he was caught has troubling implications for the general public. Police investigators compared DNA left at one of the crime scenes to genetic material uploaded by a distant relative to a family ancestry site. This helped to narrow down the search significantly. This search was done without the permission or even knowledge of the relative who entrusted their information with the website. 

It is clear that in this case the results were positive as it put away an incredibly dangerous individual. However, it is yet another example of how one can no longer trust companies with personal data. It remains to be seen if this DNA evidence will be admissible in court. If so it will give US police departments both permission and incentive to pilfer through genetic information that the up-loaders presumably thought would be confidential. It undermines any perceived trust in terms of corporate privacy. 

The Cambridge Analytica Scandal 

This is just one example of recent developments which point towards a future where our personal data is increasingly at risk of being exposed. The most high profile case of this nature is the recent Cambridge Analytica Scandal. Using an app called thisisyourdigitallife the company took advantage of Facebook’s privacy policies to harvest a significant amount of data.

It is estimated that up to 87 million Facebook users have had their personal data collected by Cambridge Analytica since 2014. This data was then used to create a psychographic profile of each individual - this profile included their location. With this information the company were able to sell personal data to politicians. 

These individual profiles were used to determine the political views of the subjects. The subjects were then targeted by sophisticated, tailor-made campaigns of misinformation and propaganda. These were used to influence voters on a number of political issues including Brexit.

So what can we learn from these latest developments? 

It is clear that we should not blindly trust companies to protect our data anymore. On the contrary, we should be sceptical of how our personal information will be used every time we reveal it online. More than ever it is important to be aware of encryption (or lack thereof) when using the internet. In order to maintain privacy it is crucial to only expose your personal data on sites that have a strong encryption certificate.

One of the key responses by the public to these events should be to change their habits when online. Before sharing your personal information with social media sites the question you should always ask is “do I want this to be known by everyone?” If not, the safest thing to do would be to not reveal this information and keep it private. 

One of the most worrying revelations in the Cambridge Analytica case was the fact that users’ locations were revealed to those who bought the information. This is a disturbing fact for anyone who values their privacy. One way of preventing this from happening again in the future would be to turn off your location in the settings of your account profile. To further increase security it is also a good idea to encrypt your devices. 

At 247 Detectives we value the privacy and security of our customers. We strive to offer a discreet service. To that end we have recognised the importance of cyber security. The encryption certificate on our site will give visitors the comfort of knowing that every action they make with us will be done in strict confidence. You should never have to sacrifice privacy in exchange for high quality service. At 1stCallDetectives we give you both.

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