We’re coming to the end of Privacy Awareness Week (#2015PAW). So time for one last article. And rather than talk about your responsibilities as a business owner for protecting your customer’s private information, let’s talk about you as an individual. And what personal and private information is being collected about you!
Fish tank ads everywhere …
By way of introduction, a little story. A couple of weeks ago, I sent an email to a friend (using Gmail) about a particular topic – let’s say it was about “fish tanks”. Over the next couple of days I noticed advertisements about fish tanks on Google search, on website articles I read and in Facebook. And I had never shown any interest in fish tanks until sending this email.
Now, I’m used to researching a topic on Google and then Google showing me online ads about that topic. But this was different. Google had not only “read” my email in order to show me online ads about fish tanks, Google had also “sold” the information to Facebook. Scary.
In fact, last year a US class action lawsuit against Google for this very thing collapsed. You see, Google has been “data-mining” emails sent through and received by the Gmail service for years. In this class action, the non-Gmail users were trying to sue – because they said they hadn’t explicitly consented to Google “reading” their emails.
Google’s defence? “Users” of Gmail have “no reasonable expectation” that their emails are confidential! In fact, the judge ruled that a class action was inappropriate, as the manner in which the non-Gmail users might have given consent could vary widely between plaintiffs (i.e. the people lodging the claim).
Win for Google.
Do I care what Google or Facebook knows?
Well, I don’t particularly care that Google knows I currently have an interest in fish tanks. But what if it wasn’t fish tanks? What information might I consider really personal and want to keep private? For example:
- My age, sex and contact details
- My ethnicity, religion and family background
- My health and any medical conditions (e.g. maybe I’m HIV+)
- My credit history and financial position
- My political or social opinions (e.g. maybe I’m against gay marriage)
- My sexual orientation or whether I’ve had an abortion
- My hobbies (e.g. maybe I’m a gun or graffiti enthusiast)
What if this information about me was being collected and stored without my knowledge? Now you have my attention!
Personal information collection all around
And the sad fact is, this information probably is being collected and stored by a number of different websites and mobile Apps. For example:
- Search engines: When you use a search engine and are logged into your online account (e.g. you’re logged into your Gmail account and you do a Google search) the search terms are recorded in your personally identifiable account.
- App permissions: When you download a mobile App, you agree to a number of permissions which could include accessing your contact list, your location, your social media contacts, your calendar, your contact details, etc.
- Website cookies: When you visit a website your actions on that website (and every time you re-visit that website) are probably being tracked by a ‘cookie’ that is downloaded automatically into your web browser software.
- Shopping carts: When you buy online, shopping cart software typically stores your credit card information (at least for some period of time before purging it), your email address, your physical address and what your bought.
- Uploading photos: When you upload photos or video to your social media account or online photo storage account, the “meta data” of your photos (time, date, location, camera type) is also stored; in addition, social media services like Facebook are using facial recognition on uploaded images.
- Contact forms: When you fill in a contact form on a website, any information requested (name, email address, physical address, telephone number, etc.) will be saved to that business’ CRM database.
- Active consent: When you tick a box when providing personal information, you’re probably agreeing to something over-and-above. It might be something as innocent as an email newsletter subscription. But it might be that you’ve just allowed your personal information to be sold to a third party.
At the very least, be aware
The pace of technological change and changes in personal data collection have been breathtaking over the last 3-5 years. So far, we’ve all agreed to this because the benefits appear to outweigh the drawbacks.
Ordering a takeaway meal on Menulog with one click of the App is incredibly convenient. Having Yelp recommend a highly-rated dentist nearby is very reassuring. Being able to bank online instead of going into a branch saves us hours throughout the year.
But at some point we will reach a limit and go a little too far. Where that line is, is a personal choice. The younger generation seem blissfully unaware of any potential problems – until they go to that job interview and their potential employer has checked out their Instagram account. The older generations have always been reluctant users of online services and social media. They will draw the line a lot, lot sooner.
Just sign up to our blog (“Online Business Advice with a Legal Twist”) in the sidebar on your right and you’ll be sent a 50% discount coupon that’s good during Privacy Awareness Week.