Tag Archives: online privacy

Defining privacy in the digital age – myths, pitfalls and positives

Privacy online has multiple meanings for different platforms and businesses – but what about us here at digi.me?

So much personal information about each of us is scattered about the web, traded, sold on and held in multiple places that we can neither access nor delete, that we can have no realistic expectation of full online privacy.

There can be no absolutes where one form of every kind of data that relates to an individual is owned and controlled by them without exception, and so online privacy is fluid when set against the norms of the offline world.

The last decade has also seen personal perceptions of privacy change and evolve dramatically with the explosion in online services and social networks on which many of us regularly post information which would previously have been considered for personal consumption only.

So how does all of this inform what we are and how we operate?

Well, digi.me deliberately enables a more private world, with more personal data under the control of each individual user, enabling them to use it as they wish, for direct benefits or insights.

But is it a privacy solution? We are often perceived as this but it’s not our primary aim as our strengths and business vision lie around the benefits of data gathering and controlled exchange.

The data still exists where it originated, but its combination with other streams and sources in one private digi.me library controlled by the user creates a body of information that is immensely more powerful than the sum of the parts scattered before this aggregation, as well as being completely private within the app itself.

This, then, is the true value of what we do, unlocking the potential of personal data, by bringing it together and creating greater value with associated complete security, with data only being exchanged or shared on the user’s terms, for their benefit.

But the constituent parts are not private in their original locations, and nor is there any way of making them be so – multiple copies of data are an expectation in the online world not shared by its offline cousin, which deals in physical entities of which often only one exists – a key reason why there can be confusion comparing the two.

Essentially, online privacy remains a fluid force, dependent in great part on the expectations of both parties when information is created and shared. What it means in any given context differs on nuances, with a broad variety of different forms available including private browsing, private sharing and private chat.

So privacy online becomes less about how each of us wants to define it, and more about how the services and platforms we use tell us they are defining it in that particular instance. We can then choose whether or not that is reasonable, and whether or not we, the guardians of our own privacy, want to partake.

Often, as seen with some of the bigger platforms, these terms and definitions will change over time – so part of taking back control of our online privacy is always being aware and as knowledgeable as we can be about what we are sharing, and with whom, and for how long.

There is no quick privacy fix, but one of the aims of digi.me going forward is to return ever more privacy to its users and enable an increasingly private world.

We are already 100% private in our operation, as we never see, touch or hold the data that users collect for their personal libraries. And we will soon enable individuals to exchange selected data with apps/businesses on a direct one to one permissioned basis.

Better for businesses as they get 100% accurate, fully permissioned data, as time goes on more and more businesses will go direct in this way, rather than scraping thinner, less accurate data from around the sides of our searches and transactions as is the predominant model now. A model that is increasingly working for neither the consumers nor businesses, which are increasingly at war over the methods used.

As more and more businesses go direct to individuals, there will be less and less money and demand for the ‘data scalpers’ and slowly their business model will become less economic and will shrink away – leaving the direct, privacy-enabling system as the major route for exchange of data for value.

Thus digi.me will enable a more private world where each user can choose how much data, if any, they are happy to share.

World’s biggest tech companies failing users on data privacy

Some of the world’s top tech companies are failing users over privacy, according to the most comprehensive research published on the subject.

Firms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, AT&T, Orange France and Vodafone were surveyed by an organisation called Ranking Digital Rights using 31 measures that focused on corporate disclosure of policies and practices that affect users’ freedom of expression and privacy.

After examining their user agreements, each was given a percentage grade, with no companies scoring over 65 per cent, and only six scoring 50 per cent. Seven companies – nearly half – only scored 22 per cent.

The report’s key findings were:

  • Disclosure  about  collection,  use,  sharing,  and  retention  of  user  information  is  poor.  Even  companies  that  make efforts  to  publish  such  information  still  fail  to  communicate  clearly  with  users  about  what  is  collected  about  them, with  whom  it  is  shared,  under  what  circumstances,  and  how  long  the  information  is  kept.
  • Disclosure  about  private  and  self-regulatory  processes  is  minimal  and  ambiguous  at  best,  and  often  non-existent.  Few  companies  disclose  data  about  private  third-party  requests  to  remove  or  restrict  content or  to  share  user  information – even  when  those  requests  come  under  circumstances  such  as  a  court  order  or subpoena.
  • In  some  instances,  current  laws  and  regulations make  it  more  difficult  for  companies  to  respect  freedom  of  expression  and  privacy.

“When  we  put  the  rankings  in  perspective,  it’s  clear  there  are  no  winners,”  said  Rebecca  MacKinnon,  director  of Ranking  Digital  Rights.  “Our  hope  is  that  the  Index  will  lead  to  greater  corporate  transparency,  which  can  empower users  to  make  more  informed  decisions  about  how  they  use  technology.”

With the report’s compiler highlighting that there no “winners”, it is clear that the losers are users creating and posting pictures and videos to platforms that are unclear at best about what they can actually do with them.

There was also wide differences in transparency within companies, with Facebook (owner of both Instagram and Whatsapp) found to make better disclosures about its flagship platform and the picture-sharing app than at Whatsapp, which did not always even publish privacy agreements in the right language.

Overall,  Google  ranked  highest  among the eight Internet  companies,  while  the  UK-based  Vodafone  ranked  highest among  telecommunications  companies. The Russian Mail.ru email service ranked the worst with 13 per cent.

The survey also found very low levels of web-based companies that allowed encryption of private content and control access, with the average score across the eight just six per cent.

Facebook Sued For Monitoring Private Messages

Happy New Year! 2014 may only be a few days old, but already there are plenty of social media stories breaking, and one in particular that may have already caught your eye is the allegation that Facebook monitors users’ private messages.

A class action lawsuit is being brought against Facebook, claiming that the social network scans external links shared by users in private messages in order to profile the sender’s web activity. It goes on to accuse the social network of systematically intercepting messages to mine user data, and then sharing this data with advertisers for profit.

The lawsuit is based upon independent research that claims Facebook reviews users’ private messages “for purposes unrelated to the facilitation of message transmission”. Facebook has in turn said that the allegations are “without merit” adding “We will defend ourselves vigorously”.

While some privacy advocates and campaigners are accusing Facebook of carrying out the alleged monitoring for the purposes of profiting from users’ data, others are coming to the defence of the social network.

Security expert Graham Cluley believes that the automated scanning of links is justified:

“If you didn’t properly scan and check links there’s a very real risk that spam, scams, phishing attacks, and malicious URLs designed to infect recipients’ computers with malware could run rife.”

Whatever your view on this is, we at SocialSafe must point out to all of our users, and anyone else reading this blog, that we never see nor store anything that you back up within your SocialSafe journal. Every time you download Facebook messages – or any other type of content – with SocialSafe, you are downloading the data straight from the social networks directly to your own machine, and we never see it nor store it.

For more on our view that ‘your data is your data’, please refer to this blog from the archive that explains our position further: SocialSafe – We Never See Nor Store Your Data.

Will Facebook Graph Search Scare Away Those Naïve To Privacy Controls?

Facebook Graph Search is finally rolling out to the masses. When he first announced the new feature in January 2013, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said “Graph Search is a completely new way for people to get information on Facebook… Eventually… we want to index all the posts and all of the content on Facebook.”

However, by trying to make Facebook too rich a pasture for people to find information about and from each other, will the well dry up as people fear for their privacy and start to lock down their profiles?

The lifeblood of Facebook is sharing. If people stopped sharing content, then you can see a clear path to fewer active users, fewer people clicking on paid ads, less being spent on paid ads, and therefore a decline in Facebook’s revenues.

A common consequence of any update to Facebook is an uproar from a privacy perspective, and people are already getting a little twitchy about the prospect of their online profiles becoming searchable. In fact, when the feature was first announced at the start of the year, The Guardian produced a few examples of why would wouldn’t want Graph Search:

“Graph Search has served up lists of family members of people who live in China and like Falun Gong, people who like the extreme rightwing group the English Defence League but also enjoy a curry, and Islamic men who are interested in other men and live in Tehran, where homosexuality is persecuted.”

Essentially the whole issue will boil down to what you decide to share on Facebook and how you go about configuring your privacy settings. Will people – en masse – stop posting things on Facebook because of Graph Search? Probably not. But there have been plenty of instances in the past where users have been very vocal in their concerns over how much of their information is set to ‘Public’ by default. Each of these minor privacy issues eventually seem to blow over, however there is a well-known phrase about “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Will Graph Search be the last straw for a small number of users? There’s every chance.

But before we started saying that Facebook has shot itself in the foot with Graph Search, it must be pointed out that the social network has once again gone to lengths to meet users half way. Regular blog posts about Facebook Privacy Settings ensure that users are fully versed in how to manage their content privately within the controls available to them – if they ever took the time to read them.

Maybe that’s the key point here? There is an increasingly strong argument to say that we should all spend some time in self-education and actually take control of our own content.

Facebook Blog About Privacy Re. 3rd Party Apps

In a blog post last Friday, Facebook went into quite some depth about the privacy of your data when it comes to connecting with third-party apps, and when users you are friends with connect with them. You can read the whole entry on the Facebook Privacy blog, but we’ll just cover a couple of points here.

Somewhat worryingly, it appears that even if you remove an app from your profile, they will still have all the data that you initially granted them access to, and they will only delete it if you contact them directly and explicitly ask them to do so. While Facebook can’t help you with this by asking them to delete it for you, they do ensure that apps are contractually obliged to delete data when requested.

However, it’s not just your own actions that you might want to be mindful of, as the Facebook Privacy blog explains:

“Your friend might also want to share the music you “like” on Facebook. If you have made that information public, then the application can access it just like anyone else. But if you’ve shared your likes with just your friends, the application could ask your friend for permission to share them.”

So essentially any information on your own profile that a friend can view is also accessible to any third-party apps that they use. Even though we’ve made this point recently, we’d just like to remind you that while SocialSafe allows you to backup your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social media accounts, we never actually see nor store any of your data. There’s more about this in a separate blog that you can read here.