Living Digitally Opaque

Most pundits, analysts and technologists that expound on smart home device security & privacy issues eventually reach the same conclusion: laws and technical specifications are needed to regulate the device manufacturers and business that handle personal information. California was the first state to act starting January 1st, 2020. The efficacy is questionable, but it’s a start. The Federal government cyber privacy laws are painfully outdated. For example, it’s illegal for video rental stores to sell data about your viewing habits, but it’s legal for your smart TV to monitor everything you watch and sell that data to 3rd parties. Video rental store?

Some governance is needed to prevent shoddy manufactures from blatantly surveilling you or selling you junk that could be used to do real harm to your family or others, but technologies are evolving so quickly that laws and regulations will always lag contemporary problems.  As the future unfolds it’s up to each of us to be aware of the areas where our personal data is exposed and take some basic steps to limit what we share.   

Remember that it’s not just smart devices and on-line activity you need to be aware of. Personal data has value, so it’s a safe bet that if someone has it, it’s sold unless there is a specific law preventing it. This means that retailers, service providers, credit cards, banks and insurance companies, are all quick to peddle the information gathered from interactions with you. Add information from public records to the mix and you can start to see how data brokers like Acxiom can claim to have an average of 1500 pieces of information on over 200 million Americans.

I’ll write more on the downside and unintended consequences of being so exposed in future postings, but I’ll finish up here with a few recommendations on limiting the leaks. In addition to opting out of elective data collection programs associated with smart TV’s and digital assistants;

  • Consider VPN services to mask your on-line activity from your internet services provider
  • Look into Virtual Credit Cards for on-line purchases
  • Hide your vices and things you’d prefer to be private by making purchases with cash, and don’t use a loyalty card. You may also want to use cash for medical related expenses. Doctors, hospitals and pharmacy’s may be prohibited from selling data about you, but if you use a credit card to pay, they will tell the tale.  
  • Keep social media contributions limited.
  • If circumstances permit, keep your phone off for parts of the day.
  • If you have smart home devices, keep your home network off when you’re not using them

The longer you’re alive the more data will be amassed about you, there is no avoiding it. By living more digitally opaque however, the more you minimize being the victim of a cybercrime and the harder you are to be manipulated into buying something or forming a specific opinion.


B. Crump

January 15, 2020

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