14 Mar 2016

Trading Personal Information for Online Convenience 

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Even before the internet, we were willing to share our personal information for convenience. Anyone over the age of 30 can likely recognize the once familiar sound of their credit card being carbon copied during a retail transaction. Fast forward to the introduction of today's e-commerce and subscription-based giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google, form submissions of personal information were forced to become much more secure.  Although we value our privacy, we can be too quick to share our information. Some people are still willing to email their credit card information (I hope you aren’t one of them.)

The Internet made communications easier, more convenient; but even when Edward Snowden revealed that the US government was reading our emails, we didn’t stop sending them. Are you ready to give up email so the NSA can’t read them? Of course not, the instant convenience of email communication has become a necessity. The same logic applies to Facebook and Google. We all know that both of these companies know us very well on a personal level. They know what we like, what we read, who our friends and relatives are, where we live and what birthday we'll be celebrating next. Are we going to stop using Google? Not likely it's our go-to source for finding everything and anything we are curious. What about Facebook? Probably not we love how easy it helps us keep in touch with friends and family.

The reality is that much of the personal data we share online makes our lives more convenient. Most of us like it when Amazon and other websites point out, “you may also like this”. We expect Google and other apps to know where we are and to deliver appropriate local search results or directions. And who doesn’t enjoy it when you don’t have to fill in your address details every time you come back to your favourite on-line shopping site?

Increasingly, sharing of our personal data online is providing us with even more benefits, outside of these simple conveniences. Take, for example, Use-Based car Insurance (UBI). By choosing to share your driving patterns, you can get a customized and often lower rate based on your monitored driving habits.  

As with this example, we often have control over what we share. We should be aware of what we are sharing and what exactly we get in return to correctly assess the risks. For example, it may not be wise to broadcast to all of social media when you are going on vacation and leaving your house unattended. However, Facebook security settings are easy to modify so that you can share your trip updates with an only a close circle of predefined friends and family (and your TV doesn't get stolen.)

Maybe you don’t want every application on your phone to always know where you are (there are many legitimate reasons to keep your whereabouts private.) For this, location settings are options that you can easily manage. For example, we all like to take pictures with our phones. By default, our mobile phones proceed to add the location to the photos. When you share them on Instagram or Facebook, it automatically publishes the location where you took the picture. For some, this is a very convenient feature it saves you from explaining where were you at the time you took the photo. But if you don’t want to reveal this, you can just turn it off and leave all your friends guessing where you ordered that sushi for lunch today. By the way, this applies to all mobile phones.

So if you haven't already, start taking control of what you share. Your personal data belongs to you, and it is valuable. You can manage the privacy settings for every application both on your mobile device and on your desktop. If you can’t find it in the settings, just ask Google and guaranteed you’ll find some great how-to information.

Taking ownership of your personal data and privacy is your responsibility.  Next time a website ask you for personal information, take the time to think about it and decide what you get in return is worth it.

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