Last updated: September 28, 2020
Internet Privacy: How Much Data Does the Net Hold on You?
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Concerns about the legal protection of personal privacy and information have been part of the American cultural landscape since the late nineteenth century.
In the December 1890 issue of the Harvard Law Review, future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (along with Samuel Warren) made an elegant argument establishing privacy as "the right to be let alone."
Can We Still Be "Left Alone"?
Yet in today's hyper-connected world, where it sometimes seems every thought or experience we have must uploaded to a blog or set adrift on the social media stream as a tweet or a post, it's become increasingly difficult to let ourselves be alone.
Of course, it's not just photos of our artfully-arranged lunches or funny quips we're uploading. Every check-in, every new social media registration, every transaction we make sends data into the ether that used to be accessible only by a chosen few.
Your Information Is Big Business
And the information explosion has become big business. In a world where sites ranging from Facebook to Amazon offer the ability to store a person's private details, preferences, and financial information, access to that information has become a commodity in its own right.
Marketers used to conduct expensive focus groups, polls and canvassing to gather information on their target demographics. Now they can simply purchase information freely provided to Facebook (which has become the largest database of personal information ever collected) by the same people they're trying to attract as customers.
You Are Probably Sharing a Lot of Personal Data
While personal financial information remains off the table to third parties (for now), a typical user's Facebook activity remains a treasure trove of tantalizing information.
Where are they shopping? What are they liking? What sites are they researching, building, or buying? What brands, entertainment, and news sites are they using and sharing with their own network of friends and family?
Given that the site has nearly a billion users and collects over 500 terabytes (TB) of data each day, discovering the personal preferences, activities and (more ominously) real-world location information is as simple as firing up one's browser for a quick search.
How Much Data Does the Internet Hold on You?
Every day we share information, send emails and enter our details online. So how much is stored?
Your Image Data
- Google Street View has collected over 5,000,000 miles of images.
- 20,971,520 gigabytes of data has been stored, enough to fill every hard
disc manufactured in 1995.
Street View has also collected data from unsecured Wi-Fi.
- 2006: Google Develops Wi-Fi capture software for Street View
- 2010: Street View enquiry launched
- 2010: Google denies collecting information
- 2010: Google admits storing email and password data
- 2011: Google refuses to co-operate with Federal Commission
- 2013: Google pays $7 million settlement
Your Email and Contact Data
What is RapLeaf?
- Rapleaf is a marketing data and software company.
- 80%: Percentage of all U.S. email addresses and stored by Rapleaf for
- 58%: Percentage of people unaware of how data is gathered and shared
online by advertisers
Data Produced by a Typical Office Worker
- 2013: 1.8 million megabytes each year
- 2015 (Estimate): 3.6+ million megabytes each year
Your Mobile Data
- 50% of iOS apps track your location
- Free apps are more than four times as likely to access your contact
- 87% of U.S. adults can be tracked via their mobile
Who Reads Privacy Policies?
- 9363 words: Facebook Privacy Pages
- 22,323 words: Much Ado About Nothing
A recent study found that after reading social media policies participants
changed their use of personal accounts
- 35% use Facebook less
- 50% use Google less
How to Protect Your Personal Data
- Change your social media privacy settings on sites like Facebook
- Check your Google Account and Privacy Settings
- Opt out Email and Marketing Databases
- Make sure your Wi-Fi password is protected
- Update your browser (Microsoft now offers Do Not Track)