I, like many others, pick up my phone several times throughout the day to browse the web, check my e-mail, text my friends and family, update social media, and do whatever else it is that we do on our smartphones during the day. When I do this, I hardly ever think about just how much sensitive information I’m sending and receiving. If I had to guess, I’d imagine that most people are the same way; we just don’t think about the fact that our information is accessible by more than just the recipient of our e-mails, the people on our friend lists, or our followers on social media networks. That information crosses a lot of different lines to get to where it is ultimately meant to go.
Occasionally, though, I do wonder about the implications of having such a vast amount of information floating around digitally and in record form. Although I grew up learning about “Internet safety” and how you’re not supposed to give your information out to strangers, I’m pretty sure through app permissions and other things that I tend to gloss over, I’m basically giving out my information indirectly anyway. It only recently occurred to me that maybe I should be taking more steps to keep my information more secure.
I’ve grown up with social media for just about as long as I can remember. I started with a Xanga blog in middle school, moved to MySpace when the quality of your posts mattered less than who was in your “Top 8”, followed my friends to Facebook (where I still connect with friends and family) and sort of somewhat use Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn. That’s not even touching the slew of other social media networks out there that I don’t use.
I mention social media because I think it’s a big reason why privacy was never something that I really valued, or grew up to truly understand. I grew up feeling like the amount of “Likes” or “Retweets” or “Shares” were what made a person valuable, so you shared as much as you could; the more you shared the better, because you wanted to put a value on everything you ever thought or did. Some days I still catch myself itching to tell people some mundane aspect of my life that nobody really needs to know about – and admittedly sometimes I still do, but it’s not nearly as frequent anymore.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Then you get into more modern risks like “App Permissions”, and how most of us essentially take app permissions as seriously as Terms and Conditions. I might be signing away my soul and my first born child, but I just scroll and accept. I don’t know why the app needed to access both cameras, Wi-Fi passwords, microphones, text messages and my contacts, but that stuff doesn’t really matter, I just want to play Clash of Candy Beach, and those app permissions were the one thing standing in my way.
I don’t think most apps have malicious intent for permissions requested, but I do think it’s important to realize that every third-party app that is installed is one more potential risk for hackers to gain access to our phones; it’s a good idea to read through every app’s permissions before installing, particularly if it’s a new app on the store. It's also important to remember that you can manage your app permissions and revoke them later (in iOS and devices running Android Marshmallow).
I also think there’s a big misunderstanding about encryption, or why it's important to more than just big businesses, governments, and corporations. Even if you don’t have anything to hide, privacy is a fundamental human right and encryption is a great way to protect your data. Of course, there are also debatable downsides to encryption (such as not being able to “catch” people who do have something to hide) but there are tools out there that still do the job, even in a world with encryption. But encryption only seems to be mentioned when something “big” happens, and I think a lot of people brush it off as being irrelevant to a “little person” like them.
I’m not saying we should be wearing tin foil hats or we should stop using our smartphones - the benefits outweigh the risks for using smartphones by a landslide for most people. But I have started noticing how little we (generally speaking) value or know about our privacy or security sometimes, especially when it comes to our phones, myself included. But when I really sit down and think about how careless I am with my information, I think maybe it’s time to do more to protect myself and what’s important to me.
How do you feel about privacy and security when it comes to your smartphone, readers? Do you take steps to protect your information? Let us know in the comments below!