Digital Danger Ahead

It’s hard to tell if it’s creepy or kinda cool, but Google Maps is now putting the names of my dinner guests on the map.

Slowly, you’ve been telling the web things about you — without meaning to.

Each decision seems simple. Looking for a ride? Download Uber or Lyft. Looking to manage your portfolio? JPMorgan has an app. Ordering groceries? You can ask Alexa to get it all set up.

And of course, to share stories and pictures, there’s Facebook or its cousin Instagram. Gmail to communicate. Expedia to plan your next adventure.

We sign up for free services and give away our personal data because the apps make our life easier, more connected.  And mostly, we don’t give it a second thought.

So when AT&T said it’ll stop selling your location data, the whole privacy thing came crashing home for a minute.



You see, AT&T was selling your location data to third-party service providers. So-called “location aggregators” are linking your actual physical presence with marketers who want to sell you things, or worse.

So where do we draw the line? And when does personal data go too far?

2018 may be known as the year that the web starting watching us, really.  A ton of new web-connected devices started using cameras to watch our homes, our front doors, our sleeping children.

For example, Amazon bought the popular video doorbell service known as Ring. It soon added a Ring App that lets users called Neighbors lets you share, view and comment on local crime activity. It even has video from Ring cameras and doorbells in your neighborhood. Pretty sci-fi scary, don’t you think?

And it’s not just outside the house. There’s a slew of new smart displays like Echo Show — also from Amazon — that bring even more cameras into people's kitchens and living rooms.

Meanwhile, Facebook — already in deep do-do for privacy reasons — came along with Portal, with a camera that actually tracks you as you walk around the room.

People-tracking cameras and always listening microphones? “Nothing bad can happen from that,” said no one ever.

So, which of the big tech companies should you trust to house and safeguard your data?

As Google, Amazon, and the giants drive forward with devices that connect our behaviors, locations, and clicks, Apple, which doesn’t officially participate in CES, took to Las Vegas last week to take a strong stand on privacy.

Across from the CES convention center, Apple had a HUGE billboard. The text: “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone” — clearly trolling Google, which had a huge presence at the consumer tech event this year.

As the sources of personal data find themselves increasingly inter-connected, consumers may find it’s too late as the increasingly sentient web connects the dots.  Imagine this scenario: You’re not feeling well, so you search your symptoms on the web, then check a web site that gives medical advice, and then walk (with your phone in hand) to your local pharmacy and purchase medicine (with a discount from your pharmacy discount card).

Hours later, your health insurance company sends a “get well soon” ecard to your personal email, and your insurance company raises your rates.  

Sound far-fetched? Well, we haven’t even dipped our toe into the world of DNA testing and where that data could end up.

Simply put, data privacy can’t come soon enough. Surprisingly it may be one of the few things that both Democrats and Republicans agree on.

Last year, during Senate Commerce Committee  privacy hearings, then-committee-chair, Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota, said developing a privacy law “enjoys strong bipartisan support.” He noted that “the question is no longer whether we need a federal law to protect consumers’ privacy. The question is what shape it should take,” according to Lawfare.

Committee members on both sides seemed to agree. Of course, with legislation the devil’s in the details, so we’ll have to see where this all takes us.

2 comments about "Digital Danger Ahead".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 14, 2019 at 6:05 p.m.

    Good one, Steven. People are only now beginning to realize that they are being tracked to the point where they will be innundated with "marketing" ploys designed to sell them things they already have or have just bought or probably don't need. Worse, as you point out, the barrage of largely unwanted ads and promos will follow consumers around---nagging at them, cajoling, teasing, etc. until, eventually a negative response sets in---if it already hasn't. Talk about overdoing it---just to make money--- this takes the cake. Don't they---the digital ad sellers and "data merchants"---- realize that they are undermining one of the foundations of selective targeting by interfering with people's lives? Must the Feds be the ones who  step in and deal with such abusive ---or exploitive--behavior?Can't the medium police itself?

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 15, 2019 at 7:02 p.m.

    No such thing as self control. Without repercussions, you eat all you want. As I keep saying and people have laughed and tauted and banned my MP : DO NOT TRACK DO NOT TRACK DO NOT TRACK...With tracking, you will be pigeonholed and gaslighted and banging your head against a wall and not even know you are dying.

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