Convenience First, Privacy Second
In the modern, technologically advanced world, consumers demanded digital products and services that make their lives easier. The technologies that are offered to them come with a variety of features. These attributes allow the consumer to unlock their phone with just their fingerprints, store password and data for sites, and use their location to find nearby places. All of these features are used on the applications, platforms, and systems that tech companies invented. According to Tom’s Guide, the Android P and iOS 12 system offered almost all of these features to their users, so their users can make their phones “more predictive and accommodating to your requests”. However, as a tradeoff, the users sacrificed their privacy to companies and hackers who profit off of the data for their own benefit. With all this ease of use, consumers did not realize they are harmed in the process- from leaked personal data to stolen fingerprints.
Google, Facebook, And Your Personal Data
It is surprising to see that consumers’ privacy is an asset to companies such as Google and Facebook. At the same time, consumers carelessly permit these companies to handle their data in exchange for convenience. While Facebook sells users’ data, Google makes money off of it by directing advertising to its users. According to BBC news, in 2018, Facebook abused their users’ data by selling it to third party groups and corporations. The 87 million users’ data was harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a British data brokerage firm, and sold to third party groups and corporations. Even though Facebook was fined $5 billion, the loss barely hurt the company, as Facebook made a $22 billion profit in 2018. At the same time, Google offers products in the same manner as Facebook. According to NBC News, the more Google products that a consumer uses, the more information Google could gather about them. Through the users’ data, Google was able to direct personalized advertisement to them and made $31.2 billion in revenue in just the first three months of 2018. Most of Google and Facebook’s reputation was built on their easy to use and fast navigation platforms, but the money is made from the users’ data.
Hackers and Your Personal Data
Commonly, a person could log on to other websites using their Facebook or Google Account. Doing so is easy and fast and the person does not have to remember more passwords. However, it is also easier for the hackers, who are trying to breach a company’s data, to get users’ personal information. According to NBC News, hackers stole almost half a billion personal records in 2018. The common practice of using Facebook and Google to log in to other platforms increases a person’s vulnerability, as this serves as an “access token” for the hackers to enter their account. The access token is defined as “a sort of digital [key]”, but containing a user’s private information. The hackers were able to shuffle through the sensitive information of 30 million Facebook users using the access tokens and perform the security breach. Unfortunately, when it comes to remembering one more password for another site, consumers failed as they chose the convenience of using one account and one password for almost every site.
Importance of Fingerprints
When unlocking a phone, consumers got lazier as they went from a four-digit pin code to just one tap of their finger. Although this process is faster, the problem is that they gave away one of their most important pieces of privacy, the fingerprint. From crime cases to airport security, a fingerprint serves as a unique identifier because everyone’s fingerprint is different. According to Robichaud, a criminal defense law firm, the use of fingerprints becomes serious in court, as the fingerprint is a “reliable form of forensic evidence”. Without thinking, many people chose to give phone companies such as Apple and Google their fingerprint, a piece of court evidence, so they could unlock their phones a couple of seconds faster. In the event that a company chooses to sell their users’ fingerprints to a third-party group, the users would never know. Similarly, users would never know what the third party group will do with their fingerprints that were brought from the company.
Alternative Solution: Inconvenience
To truly protect one’s privacy, it comes down to one choice: Inconvenience. Setting a different, stronger password should be mandatory for the consumer in protecting all the information you stored in a certain account. Using a pin code is better than using a fingerprint to unlock the phone because fingerprints are important court evidence. Avoiding features from a platform that will record a user’s personal information is also useful. According to the Digital Guardian, companies are sometimes vulnerable just like the users when it comes to handling sensitive data. Taking one step further may be hard, but it will pay off in the long run. However, while all the personal information is not lost and it is still important to protect and secure a person’s online data.
This OpEd was written by U4SC Student Intern, Feng.[Image Attribute: Mike Mackenzie]