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Whose data is it anyway?

By Joshy John & Siddharth Singh

If you think you can really trust the apps on your smartphone, then you are highly mistaken. There are over thousands of research papers in the public domain that bring out the data privacy breach by some of the most popular apps and software. These popular apps that you download for free are not really free; they have been bending the rules so that they can take a dig at your personal data. All things considered, one may ask what would they be able to conceivably do with it? The appropriate response is more terrifying, and to some degree philosophical in nature. Firstly, they sell your personal details – your psychographics to various corporations, who later target likes of you specifically and make you feel that you are special for their company, but the real deal is that there is one single standardized message for everyone. Therefore, with your data, they are predicting your needs and wants, and then making you actually crave for it.

Coming back to data privacy breach, the most recent example is that of FaceApp. When it comes down to it, FaceApp is one of the many other apps that analyzes your photos in some form or another. Though not all companies collect the same exact information, most companies probably know more about you than you thought they do. Just like your carbon footprint, there is a technological footprint that you leave everywhere you go. The most layman example of that would be you checking into Starbucks from your Facebook account. In this day and age, every account is linked with one another. The “baddest” cat of them all is none other than Google. All your accounts are connected to a single link, and that is Google. You use your Google account everywhere, and it has come to light that Google stores all your data, be it your search history, your ad clicks, even your deleted cookies, etc.

Believe it or not, you are being stalked by big data monsters who will flip your data towards the highest bidder. If you think Cambridge Analytica was the prima donna of data breach, then be assured that it was just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the data is being traded on the Dark Web. Contrary to the popular belief, dark net is widely used for trading data of people and not body parts for cannibals.

Even the popular food delivery app in India, Zomato, has been a victim of data breach. According to, a hacker who goes by the name of "nclay" claimed to have hacked Zomato, and was willing to sell data pertaining to 17 million listed users on a prevalent Dark Web marketplace. Wattpad, a Toronto based online storytelling platform, was another victim of data breach. Personal details, passwords and pictures of the users were compromised. Hence, it is very important for us to be aware of such incidents and educate ourselves so as to keep our data and online presence safe. You can do simple things tp practice cyber hygiene. Keep changing your passwords from time to time, if you are using google chrome, then you can deny the location permission, this keeps you invisible from the black hat advertisers in your region. There are several other third-party ad blockers that help you block unnecessary ads and pop-ups, but to use it, you must download the app, which is the root of all causes. There are several location maskers and VPN apps available that are deemed useful, but downloading an app for that will lead to the same issue all over again.

Researchers from the International Computer Science Institute found up to 1,325 Android apps that were gathering data from devices even after people clearly denied them permission. One tip that almost every data expert mentions is double checking which permissions the app asks for. You should also ask yourself whether it makes sense for an app to ask for certain permissions. A camera app asking for access to read your messages isn't relevant to its function, and that is a major warning sign. But the easiest way to stay away from personal data breach, hacked email, etc is to reduce social media footprint. If you appear on a friend or family member's account, you're still visible online. After those accounts are observed, companies can create a "shadow profile" that follows an individual’s likes, dislikes, political orientation, religious beliefs and more. Therefore, it is wise to limit the info that you share on social media. According to IdentityForce, an identity security company, in June, 2019 alone, over 267 million Facebook usernames, Facebook IDs, and phone numbers were exposed - which then led to phishing, hacking, etc

All of us wished for a connected world and we indeed have it, but at what cost? Your data is not really yours anymore. Data is the new oil, and oil surely leaks, just the way data does. There is nothing you can do to completely cease your data leak, but you can definitely soften the blow by being watchful of suspicious activities and app trends that are often a pyramid scheme to steal your data.


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