Why are so many companies updating their privacy policies?

You’re probably receiving a lot of ‘privacy update’ emails at the moment. The bulk of them are from services you don’t even remember signing up for. Before you get upset and mark them all as spam, think of it as the email version of Marie Kondo. It’s time to de-clutter your virtual space and review your virtual footprint.

Everything you put online is a breadcrumb trail. Ordinarily, these details are used to send you target ads based on your interests.Other times, they can be built into a composite that can lead to identity theft, cost you a job, or compromise your relationship. Think about it this way. Someone with less-than-kosher intent sends you a friend request on Facebook or follows you on another platform. You accept without thinking twice.

A new kind of fake friend

This person now has access to your status updates and friends list. If your friends’ privacy settings allow it, this person can access their details too. Most of what we post on social media is trivial. You may whine about being stuck in traffic, publish a #TBT fromyour first day of school, or share a flash sale at your favourite store.

All your friends are doing the same thing, so a keen observer can get enough details to impersonate you online. They can deduce where you grew up, your childhood pet, mum’s maiden name (these are common answers to security questions) … and whether or not you’re home right now.They could access your email, hack your preferred platform, or create fake social media accounts to fool your friends, family, and bank account.

The trouble is … none of this is illegal. You offered this information freely. And even if the criminal didn’t harvest it from your public profile, they may have taken it from a source you agreed to. Every app, newsletter, or online quiz you sign up for has some form of data collection, and you inadvertently told them exactly how they could use that information.

‘Senator, we run ads’

A senator asked Mark Zuckerberg how he makes money off an app that’s offered for free. Hesmirked, explaining he sustains his business model by selling ads. That’s the main function of all that data sites collect – to figure out what you like and feed you relevant ads. However, there are some sneaky clauses in there, and when we find out what they are, we panic.

In recent months, Europe passed a new law called GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). It’s 261 pages long and says customers must consent before apps and websites store their data. So the privacy update emails are to remind you to agree to newer T&Cs. Which you probably did.Without reading them.Again.

Some companies responded to GDPR by offering tools so you can review and delete your data. Other apps shut down altogether. So if you do nothing else today, unsubscribe from all your idle services, and check the privacy settings on your social media platforms

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