When I think about privacy in today’s digital age, I can’t help but flash back to Rockwell’s 1984 chart-topping hit, “Somebody’s Watching Me.” The chorus – sung by Michael Jackson – is stuck in my head.
I feel like Rockwell, but it’s not just creepy paranoia setting in.
According to a study reported in the Wall Street Journal, your smartphone apps could be tracking you every 3 minutes.
Yet, as frightening as it sounds, most of us couldn’t imagine a life today without our smartphones.
In fact, a recent study found that a third of us would give up our cars over our smartphones – at least we’d still have the Uber app.
Another study by Motorola found that more than half of us would sacrifice our cat over our smartphone in the case of a fire (sorry, Mickey) and 22% would rather give up sex for the weekend than our smartphone.
I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised. Just think about it. How many times a day do you use apps to get directions, check the weather, play a game, listen to music, look up news, watch a video, shop, or log in to your social networks?
Smartphone owners spend 89% of their mobile media time using apps, according to Go-Globe.
But it’s mind-bending to think about the myriad ways our movements and activities are being tracked – without us even knowing it.
Every day companies and marketing firms collect, categorize and sometimes sell Rocky Mountain-high bytes of personal information about our daily movements, purchasing habits, likes and dislikes, closest friends and more.
It’s a complicated trade-off. While we don’t like the idea of companies spying on us and then selling our personal data, have we really been harmed by it?
And more importantly, are we willing to give up the many benefits of our smartphone to protect our privacy? Because even without our mobile devices, our activities are tracked throughout the day with traffic lights and security cameras, credit card purchases and online browsing.
Ask for permission, not forgiveness.
I don’t have a problem with companies tracking my data for the primary purpose of helping serve me better. I actually quite like it.
How else would I receive personalized offers for e-coupons or discounts? Or suggestions for music, movies, books or news based on my preferences and interests?
Companies should be transparent about the types of customer data they collect, how they use it, and how they secure it. Then, once they’ve fully disclosed their process and intent, they should give people a chance to opt-in or opt-out if the data will be shared or sold to third-parties.
And much like the social media disclosures required by the FTC, data collection disclosures should be easy to find and understand.
7 ways to help protect your privacy on your iPhone.
I’m sure there are similar ways to do this for Android devices. But since I have an iPhone, I’ll stick to what I know.
1. Block websites from storing cookies on your device.
In Settings, go to Safari and enable the Do Not Track and Block Cookies features. Just be warned that if you Always disable cookies, websites you trust won’t remember your preferences or log-in status.
2. Use private browsing mode in Safari.
If you don’t want your browsing history tracked, open up Safari, tap on the tabs icon, and select Private.
By selecting private browsing, Safari won’t remember AutoFill information and won’t store your tabs in iCloud. It also will ask websites and 3rd-party advertisers not to track you.
3. Adjust your Locations settings.
Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Here, you can disable Location Services all together or select which apps have access to your location and when they have access.
There are obvious drawbacks to completely turning off Location Services. You’ll lose GPS capabilities that allow you to easily find restaurants, shops and other addresses near you. You also won’t be able to check-in at various spots on social media, if that’s something you like to do.
4. Disable Location-Based iAds.
At the bottom of the Location Services screen, click on System Services. Here, you’ll find Location-Based iAds in the list.
iAds are the banners that appear in 3rd-party apps you’ve downloaded in the App Store. Although you can’t completely get rid of them, by disabling this feature, it will prevent them from tracking your location and providing more relevant ads.
5. Limit Ad Tracking.
At the bottom of the Privacy screen, tap Advertising. Here, you can prevent apps from using your information to provide you with more targeting ads.
6. Only use Wi-Fi when you need it.
Your location can still be tracked with Wi-Fi.
7. Check your permissions.
Before you install an app, review the long list of permissions carefully. If you notice something fishy, such as a calculator app that wants access to your email contacts, don’t install it.
You should avoid giving apps access to your address book, location or other personal data unless it’s necessary.