​Protecting Your Data Privacy: Whose Job Is It Anyway?

Wendy Glavin  |


Last year, we focused on lack of trust, privacy issues, ethics, and cybersecurity. We developed a greater realization about how tech companies like Facebook  (FB) (which owns WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram), Amazon  (AMZN), Netflix  (NFLX), Apple  (AAPL) and Google  (GOOGL), (a subsidiary of Alphabet) and other tech companies use our personal data.

Nevertheless, 2.2 billion Facebook users upload millions of photos per day. And, in January 2019, 5.2 million people participated in Facebook’s “10-Year Challenge” and posted comparison photos of themselves from 10 years ago next to a current one—all the while unknowingly providing valuable image data to be potentially analyzed by AI and facial recognition software. “This photo challenge is a perfect storm for machine learning,” said NYU Professor Amy Webb.

You Can’t Delete Your Face

Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence (AI) where programmers train computers to learn from data, identify patterns, analyze past data to make predictions and get smarter over time as new data is provided. Machine-learning algorithms analyze data from the past to determine future success.

Wired, The New York Times, Forbes and many other publications speculated about Facebook’s strategy for creating the campaign. Was this to obtain more data for facial recognition algorithms? Or, can external organizations, like the police and insurance companies, access the data to track people or analyze photos of how people age to make future healthcare conclusions?

"You can delete cookies. You can change browsers. And you can leave your smartphone at home," says facial recognition expert Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy & Technology. "But you can't delete your face, and you can’t leave it at home."

This example begs the issue: if you’re fed-up with Facebook, why not just delete the app?

Do You Know Where Your Sneakers Are Made?

Like Facebook, there are concerns about the development of facial recognition software. For example, The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) 85-group National Coalition is demanding that Amazon commit to not selling facial surveillance technology to the government.

Both Google and Microsoft acknowledged the risks and agreed to either act responsibly or not sell data to the government. On the other hand, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said, “Some technologies could be misused, but that is not a reason to stop their development.

Bezos compared current technology to the invention of books, which have been used for good and bad, including creating "fascist empires.” The last thing we'd ever want to do is stop the progress of new technologies. “I feel that society develops an immune response eventually to the bad uses of new technology, but it takes time.”

Have We Become Desensitized?

Since consumers want convenience, speed and a frictionless experience, why shop in a brick-and-mortar store when you can purchase through e-commerce sites like Amazon? Global consumer spending totaled $45 trillion in 2018, according to Euromonitor.

But have you considered all the personal data that Amazon gathers and stores about you? We habitually provide our names, addresses and credit card information. Its robust platform tracks users’ behavior along the entire buyer’s journey to determine what recommendations to make to create targeted branded advertising.

Also, as a global company, anyone anywhere can become a wholesaler or a manufacturer. “Quietly and below the radar, Amazon has been ramping up its ocean shipping service, sending close to 4.7 million cartons of consumer goods from China to the U.S over the last year, records show.

Companies manufacturing in China can now sell directly to U.S. consumers via Amazon. That means Amazon is accelerating globalization straight to American households. And it won’t stop with goods being sold only on Amazon, say experts.”-- USA Today, January 2019.

Research suggests that many products from Amazon may be counterfeit, stolen or money laundering. Just go to Amazon Consumer Affairs, which the company says it doesn’t participate in and read the 30 reviews in January 2019. They include delivery delays, product switching when items are unavailable, lack of refunds, overcharges and problems with third-parties. Nearly all the reviews provided Amazon with only 1-star.

Hopefully, none of these incidents have happened to you. But, when Facebook, Amazon, Google and Yahoo track your online behavior and determine your search and browse history, ad clicks, profile information, IP addresses, cookies, location and many other activities, doesn’t this knowledge give you cause for concern?

If not, maybe you’d care about doctors using and selling your personal information.

Should Doctors Share Your Personal Data?

HIPAA , the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that was passed by Congress in 1996 that protects our medical and health information. A Federal Privacy Law protects your written, oral and electronic rights regarding access of your medical records rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information.

But a lot has changed since 1996. Several methods of securing patient data are outdated. Email enables doctors and patients to share medical information which may not be encrypted and provides access to hackers.

Also, AI is impacting the healthcare industry. For example, "Patient health data is routinely sold or licensed to research companies such as Paige.AI, as well as to medical data brokers who pool the data — from doctor and hospital records, to insurance claims and prescriptions — which has significant value."

For instance, pharmaceutical companies pay a premium for this data to more precisely target their online ads, as reported by The Washington Post.

The World Privacy Forum reports that that 4 in 5 physicians have experienced some form of a cybersecurity attack. The Health and Human Services (HHS) Deputy Secretary said, “For the health sector, cyberattacks are especially concerning because these of the direct threats to the security of our systems and information but also the health and safety of American patients. We are under constant cyberattack in the health sector, and no organization can escape that reality.

While health IT holds the promise to help address some our most intractable problems, whether in clinical care, fundamental research, population health or health system design, our technology will work for us only if it is secure.”

HIPPA can’t protect all the personal information we spread every day on the internet. Getting back to Facebook, Apple says it has banned a Facebook-made app that paid users, including teenagers, to extensively track their data. The app, Facebook Research, tracked people’s phone and web activity in exchange for payments.

NPR reported on January 30, 2019, "In the latest revelation to raise privacy concerns about Silicon Valley's tech titans, reports have surfaced that Facebook and Google offered adults and teens gift cards for installing apps that would let the companies collect data on their smartphones."

Lawmakers are questioning Facebook about the app. "I have concerns that users were not appropriately informed about the extent of Facebook's data-gathering and the commercial purposes of this data collection," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., wrote in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "Facebook's apparent lack of full transparency with users — particularly in the context of 'research' efforts — has been a source of frustration for me."

Other social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter track both online and offline data. Since many of us have a public profile on LinkedIn, which include our name, connections, posts and comments, consumers and companies can learn a lot about us.

But, it’s not just about social media platforms. Retail stores, cable companies, hotels, utility and cable companies, financial institutions, gaming, smartphones, retail stores, driving apps, travel sites, cities, governments, and more use and even sell our data to brokers.

Data brokers collect and analyze public records, access consumer profiles from social media and web search behavior, which we allow because we’ve (most likely not) read and signed company’s in-depth terms and conditions. And, the misuse of data doesn’t end here.

Our Smart Devices Are Listening

According to The Verge, more than 100 million Alexa devices have been sold. Google also announced that its Assistant now runs on 400 million devices. Google, Apple, and Microsoft are all competing with Amazon for dominance in virtual assistants.

Amazon’s Alexa has led the way for years, but the market has become much more competitive recently. Google is gaining ground in the space, and a September 2018 report found the Google Home Mini was the top-selling smart speaker in the second quarter of 2018, though Amazon’s devices still outsold Google in aggregate, according to an article by GeekWire in January 2019.

In a TED 2018 talk, “What your smart devices know (and share about you)”, technology journalist Kashmir Hill and Sura Mattu, investigative journalist, engineer and artist, say 1 in 6 American adults have a virtual assistant. While these consumer own the device, the companies own your data.

We may think that we’re merely giving up some privacy for convenience. But, the device can “act” on its own. For example, while listening to Hill, “We thought it would be easy to ask Alexa to make us coffee, but instead, we had to use a specific brand reference to the Behmor to run quick start.”

The next thing I heard was my Alexa telling me I had to use, ‘The Behmor Brewer-Account Set-up.’ I never programmed my Alexa to do anything except tell me the weather, time, and a few flash briefings about hashtag trending today, tech news, Harvard Business Review’s tip of the day, Wall Street’s briefing, and other news.

I was taken-aback when Alexa surprisingly said, “Have a good day.” I never programmed it to listen to what I say.

The question remains, what are we going to do about all the data that’s controlling our lives? Perhaps you’ll delete Facebook, stop watching Netflix, change your settings on LinkedIn from public to private, do less shopping on Amazon or other e-commerce sites or discuss your medical privacy concerns with your doctor and health providers.

Now, that we know what we’re dealing with, the buck stops with you. What behaviors are you willing to shift in exchange for more privacy and security?

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of equities.com. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to: http://www.equities.com/disclaimer

Companies

Symbol Name Price Change % Volume
FB Facebook Inc. 161.89 1.85 1.16 15,858,468 Trade
GOOGL Alphabet Inc. 1,116.56 12.35 1.12 1,471,783 Trade
NFLX Netflix Inc. 363.02 6.05 1.69 7,088,214 Trade
MSFT Microsoft Corporation 110.97 1.56 1.43 27,763,218 Trade
AAPL Apple Inc. 172.97 1.91 1.12 18,913,154 Trade
AMZN Amazon.com Inc. 1,631.56 12.12 0.75 3,096,191 Trade

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