The Internet has come to revolutionize the way our economy works. In 1998 the United States Census Bureau started recording the importance that, for example, e-commerce had in the economy (sales, revenues, and shipments) in very important sectors (wholesale, retail, manufacturing, and services). Some interesting numbers from their latest report (2017 statistics) give an idea of the importance that the internet has had in the economy:
– $3,729.5 billion in e-commerce shipments in worth from American manufacturers which constituted 66.7 percent of all manufacturing shipments
– $2,442.9 billion e-commerce sales for merchant wholesalers in the USA that corresponded to 32 percent of the whole branch
– $1,004.3 billion in revenues from service industries that came from electronic sources in the US, which represented 6.5 percent of the branch
– $461.0 billion in sales from retailers in the United States which meant 9.1 percent of all sales in this branch
Those are huge numbers that show how the internet has grown to become for the American economy. It is undeniable as well, that the internet has also managed to make our lives easier and it gives us unprecedented ways of spending time, communicating with others, and experts say that it is even changing the way we think. The internet is also invading different facets and spaces in our lives. It started by being confined to our computers and smartphones, but through the explosion of application of the various products from the Internet of Things (IoT) many more aspects of our lives (home appliances, gadgets to measure our health, sensors, etc.) are now somehow connected to the cloud.
Although this might sound very positive, in the latest years it has become clear that this development into a progressively internet-dominated life has some darker sides as well. Cybercrime has been on the rise and companies have found more ways to take advantage, using the fact that, given the fast-paced nature of technological developments, governments lag behind the legislation in this realm. A majority of the problems that the internet brings are somehow related to what has become a buzzword in the last years, data. Paraphrasing the now iconic phrase from the 2017 article of the Economist: Data is now the most valuable resource and not oil.
Why should you care? A response that is often brought when mentioning the fact that companies are tracking your data is that some people do not care because they have nothing to hide. This attitude is dangerous and comes from a misunderstanding of how companies are exploiting their privileges. The New York Times, in an interesting interview to Bernett Cyphers, advocate in a digital rights organization that fights for consumer online privacy, summarized it quite effectively noting that the tracking that companies have of their customers is dangerous because this information is used in ways that it was not supposed to and that might affect your life in significant ways. It allows advertising, marketing, and political messaging with manipulative objectives and helps these messengers remain unaccountable. It allows discriminatory treatment and it might put a lot of people in danger.
Some necessary measures to prevent online companies from collecting your data:
Completely stopping companies from collecting your data is nearly impossible. However, the following measures considerably help you reduce the dangers.
– Know what information is out there on the cloud. Nuwber offers in-depth background checks from all information that is out there in publicly available resources. If you figure out that any sensitive or wrong information is available, you can take the necessary steps to take it offline.
– Take the necessary steps to protect your online accounts. These include using complex and secure passwords without repetition for each online account, always use two-factor authentication where available.
– Unless you are a public figure or use your social media accounts for public reasons, set your accounts to private. This will ensure that your information is not readily available. Some platforms like Instagram or Pinterest provide for settings that will even prevent your content from appearing in Google searches.
– Keep all of your devices up to date. Always install the latest version of the operating systems because they make sure to patch any detected security issues.
– Be mindful of the way you share sensitive information online, for example tagging the location of your home or publishing your address somewhere online. This also means that you should be really suspicious when other people request sensitive information from you.
– Deactivate personalization settings from all of your social media accounts. This will prevent companies from using your profile and behavioral information for their gain.
– Erase third-party cookies. Cookies are used by companies to track your behavior while on their sites but also when you are on other websites. This becomes a big source of information that is later used by companies to personalize what you see and get.
– Surf anonymously to avoid tracking from companies. Use Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to hide your IP address.
Some concluding remarks
It is undeniable that the internet will keep having a deep impact on our lives. Companies will keep developing new business models that are based on the new possibilities that the internet allows. However, since our governments are not reacting fast enough, it is important to remain vigilant. Our data is the most precious resource that we are giving to the companies, and that is being misused in a lot of ways. Data allows companies to personalize the content that we see in discriminating ways (whether it is the prices we get from their products, the way they try to convince us to do something, or even the political message we listen). Moreover, this personalization is not accompanied by transparency. Companies are not being honest about how their algorithms choose for us the way they do. This list of measures will not completely stop companies, but they are a big step towards protecting your data.
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