We don't have to be apathetic when it comes to online privacy
As we start to say goodbye (and good riddance!) to 2020, we’re launching our first Privacy Refresh series, aimed at helping you take back your privacy from the hands of the companies who have gathered it. First up: Social media.
Social media burst onto the scene right around the same time as the smartphone — and the combination of the two proved irresistible. We were like kids with a new toy; we wanted more, more, more. And, like kids, we didn’t really think about the consequences. But today, more than 13 years since the release of the iPhone and 16 years since Facebook was released, consumers are more aware of what we’ve “paid” for “free” social media: Our privacy.
“We were offered things for free and we thought it was free,” Avast’s Petra Moravcová says. “But we were paying with the most vulnerable thing. And that’s our data.”
The accumulation of so much data over so long has lead many of us to feel kind of… Resigned. What can we do in the face of Big Tech, really? They have the information. I’m not doing anything wrong. Who cares?
As a millennial myself — I was a freshman in college the year Facebook launched and I didn’t get my first cellphone until the next year — I understand that perspective. It’s one I’ve even had myself. But as I’ve dived deeper into the world of online security and privacy, I’ve realized that not only do we have more power than we think when it comes to who has our data and what that they do with it, but also that we don’t have to be caught flatfooted like we were when social media first popped up.
So how do learn from our mistakes and get prepared for whatever the next big thing will be? First: By only investing in companies that are actively investing in our privacy.
Moravcová has some tips for how to ensure products and services you use in the future are actually taking your privacy into consideration. Make sure they have receipts. Moravcová says that a company that truly cares about privacy will not only be vocally pro-privacy but will also have privacy built into their products.
A great contemporary example? Apple. With the release of their Catalina operating system, Apple has taken their commitment to privacy and security to the next level. From giving people the option to only share certain photos with their social media apps to warning you about weak passwords to forcing apps to ask permission when they want access to potentially private data, Catalina is proof that Apple is walking the walk.
“If you care about your privacy, invest in an iPhone or Mac,” Moravcová says. “They’re secure and they care about privacy. When you buy their products, you’re essentially paying for privacy.”
In the future, Moravcová would also like to see warning labels on tech products similar to those found on cigarettes. She believes that an ever-present visual reminder of what social media can do to people’s mental health could help reduce our “addiction” to it. It could also, she suggests, make parents think twice before using it around kids or letting kids use it themselves.
And, finally, Moravcová says that “if something can really help,” it’s governments stepping in and setting regulations on what companies can and can’t do with our data. She points to the GDPR in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act in the US as examples of first steps being taken in that direction. Rather than putting the onus for protecting our privacy on users, Moravcová says, it’s time for governments to step in.
But, in the meantime, most of the onus is on us. And while it’s tempting to give into that apathetic feeling, there really are simple things you can do to take back some of your privacy from social media companies. So join us for the next month as we tackle one social media company per month, starting with Facebook next Monday. We’ll give you simple steps you can take, one per day, that will make a huge difference.
You don’t have to give over all of your privacy to social media. Welcome to the Privacy Refresh.
Dear Avast, I recently hosted a birthday party for my child. I want to post the photos on social media, but I'm not sure if it's OK to post pictures of my kid's friends online. What should I do?
Users need to protect themselves with a VPN when they use free Wi-Fi, because areas of such low security can be a haven for hackers to execute malware distribution, man-in-the-middle attacks, packet sniffing, and other threats.