Increasing Understanding of Technology and Communication

Personal Data – Don’t Just Give It Away, Lease it!


Despite feeling uneasy about sharing our data – 60 per cent of those surveyed recently by credit checking company Experian said they felt uncomfortable about giving out personal information — we still do it. Facebook, Google, Amazon and other companies hold details that we have willingly given up in return for a service — whether it be to “like” our friends’ pictures, search for cat-related video clips or buy the latest Jonathan Franzen novel.

In the face of recent data breaches, is worth handing it over?  What’s the balance between giving up your data and what you get in return, and how can you shift that balance in your favor?

The value in your life; This reference to “Data” refers to more than your basic demographic such as Name, Address and maybe telephone number.  Companies want details that will establish you as a commodity -- information they can harvest as a “data set” and then sold on to insurers or advertisers, for example.  Information like your shopping habits or something as basic as your location. Anything about your personality that can be translated into data is worth something to someone – whether legitimately or otherwise.

People have become wise to companies asking for irrelevant details – for example, pet insurers asking for your marital status.  At the moment, most of us give up this information for free, something EY, the professional services firm, believes will end in a few years’ time.  EY thinks this golden age of “free-for-all access to customer data” is likely to decline by 2018.  Matthew Heath, chairman of Lida, with the M&C Saatchi Group says, “As long as they get more relevance and tailored services in return, the data exchange is seen as fair.”

But how much is your data actually worth?  Folks expectations run high.  A recent survey revealed that most people expected to be paid at least $43 to give up their personal information.  In the UK, Digital Catapult, a government-backed initiative to support the online economy, estimates the overall market could be worth up to $21 billion a year.  But based on how the sector has been modelled they would likely value your information in pennies or fractions of a penny.

But while this return is very low, be assured that it is not the whole picture.  You should not sell your data, but lease it.  Time and time again.

“There is a critical difference between selling and licensing your data,” explains Nicholas Oliver, founder of, a data exchange.  “A sale is giving something away in return for a payment or an exchange, and then you lose control.  That’s a very scary and dangerous thing to do.  Creating value and licensing that data – absolutely, people should definitely be able to do that.”

Read Article (Hugo Greenhalgh | | 11/06/2015)

Most of us are immersed in a complex, volatile soup of hyper-connected digital tech, where not only is the perception of time compressed, but privacy protections are being reshaped.  Consumers are gaining knowledge of Personal Data’s value and knowledge is power.

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When is it Worth Giving up Personal Information?


Would you trade Personal Information, such as ‘when you are home’ and ‘in what rooms’, to save a few bucks on your energy bill, even if it meant sending this data to a distant tech company?  This is one of the hypotheticals laid out in a new report from Pew Research Center, which found that more than half of the 461 adults it surveyed couldn’t stomach the idea of.

But thermostats that collect data on people aren’t hypothetical.  In fact, they’re quickly becoming the standard: by 2017, market research firm Parks Associates estimates more than half of the thermostats sold in the United States will be “smart.”  One of the biggest players in this market is “Nest”, which is offered by Google with parent-company Alphabet, that make much of its revenue by tracking our behavior and selling us targeted ads.

So why the disconnect between thermostats and Americans’ distrust of the data that makes them work better?  Part of the answer may be that consumers don’t understand what they’re giving up when they pick up that shiny new device.

Lee Rainie, lead author of the report said, “Modern life is really a life of almost ceaseless transactions like this.”  These little tradeoffs happen with almost every online click, when using a smartphone, or even getting on a bus.

Often, the benefits to giving up your data are obvious: Cheaper energy bills or convenience of a swipe into a transit system.  But the potential pitfalls can be more abstract.  For example, it’s hard to tell what consequences you’ll face if a company is tracking your web browsing today.

Still, consumers show a paranoia about how their data may someday be used against them.  “There’s a very strong sense that people don’t know the details of [these deals] and that makes them unnerved,” said Rainie.

To help understand how people judge these trade-offs, Pew laid out a handful of different situations in its latest report.  Answers suggest that Americans do not view the tracking of personal data as an all-or-nothing proposal.

Car insurance companies offering discounts, just like smart thermostats, this is something that’s already happening: Firms like Progressive and Liberty Mutual have programs that ask people to give up detailed information about their driving habits in exchange for a discount.  Focus group responses to these scenarios hit respondents close to home.

“They don’t like the idea of places that used to seem very private, like their homes or their cars, being monitored.”  And because these are practices already commonplace, respondents may have already had to think through the implications.

Indeed, a recent Accenture study of 28,000 consumers in 28 counties found that security and privacy concerns are among the top reasons why people did not buy smart home and wearable products.  Nearly half of respondents, 47%, cited this concern.  Of those who would buy smart devices, nearly a quarter told Accenture that concerns about security breaches delayed their plans to do so.  And 18% said this worry prompted them to stop using smart devices altogether.

However, Pew posed a scenario that elicited a different response.  The group was asked, if someone was stealing personal belongings from your workplace, would it be ok if the company installed a camera system with facial recognition technology to catch the thief – even if the company could keep the footage and the feeds could also be used to track employee attendance and performance?  By a two-to-one margin, 54% to 24%, people said that arrangement was acceptable.

Previous Pew surveys have found that few people feel they have much control over how data collected about them is collected or used.  In this latest report, they noted that focus groups were “much more likely to speak of the darker side of personal information tradeoffs” than their benefits.

One participant said, “I really think that the next generation will not even understand the value of privacy.  Privacy will be a thing of the past.”

Read Article (Peterson & Tsukayama | | 01/14/2016)

The issue of who controls our personal data has never been more critical. And more and more people are realizing this control begins – in the palms of their own hands.

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Biometric Password Risks Outweigh Benefits?


Devices can recognize you from your fingerprints, iris pattern and even your heartbeat but a stolen password can be changed, stolen fingerprints cannot. Biometric security doesn’t rely on your memory, but who you are. It swaps passwords for digital readings of anatomical features such as your face shape, fingerprint, iris, heartbeat and even brainwave patterns.

“The password system is severely broken,” says Thomas Keenan, a professor and expert in biometrics from the University of Calgary. “We’ve been relying on them for 40 years, but people now have so many and they are so complex that we can no longer remember them. You can’t forget body parts and they are much harder to duplicate or steal.”

It’s not only phones and operating systems incorporating the technology: ATMs, cars and briefcases have all been secured with fingerprint (and sometimes palm vein pattern) recognition technology. Starting January 2016, a company called “Sentinl” will start selling “Identilock” a gun-lock that will only release the trigger when the rightful owner’s finger comes in contact with it.

“Data breaches are very common. If biometric information is stored on a mass scale it can be hacked into and stolen and we may lose control of it,” warns Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group.

The same characteristics that make biometrics seemingly secure are what also makes them so intrusive. If passwords are stolen, we can change them. We can’t change our fingerprints or faces. History has shown that soring any kind of personal data presents a tantalizing bounty to malicious hackers – as demonstrated when the fingerprints of 5.6 million US federal employees were stolen in September.

Biometric hackers from Germany’s Chaos Computer Club bypassed Apple’s Touch ID just days after it launched by taking a photograph of a fingerprint on a glass surface and using that to create a fake finger that could unlock the phone. A year later the same group cloned the thumbprint of the German defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, after photographing her hand from a distance at a press conference.

It’s not just fingerprints that can be spoofed. Some facial recognition tools can be fooled by simply holding up photos or videos of the individual. Meanwhile, a team of Spanish researchers managed to trick eye-scanners with reverse engineered fake irises.

Jennifer Lynch also said, “But the risks are outweighed by the benefits,” pointing out that the convenience of biometrics means that people who typically eschew passwords because they are too fiddly are more likely to secure their devices.

Read Article (Olivia Solon | | 12/08/2015)

Does Jennifer Lynch use biometric security? This is an innovation that’s outstanding in theory, but fades in the light of reality. I’d wait until it was spoof-proof.

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Blackphone 2 Encrypts Everything by Default


The original Blackphone was a joint venture between Silent Circle and Geeksphone in 2014, claiming first to be secure-by-design through full device encryption by default. It was, however, criticized for a lack of design focus and for not offering access to Google Play. Instead they pitched their own store selection of privacy optimized apps, which appears to have made the masses unhappy.

The message was obviously received and the Blackphone 2 was launched 28 Sept 2015 offering all functionality of the most cutting edge smartphones, without compromising on privacy and security. It’s powered by a modified version of Android Lollipop, known as Silent OS which provides full device encryption and a security center for managing privacy and security settings.

Users can fine tune their app permissions and the data apps have access too, they can also create separate secure “spaces” for sensitive business data and personal apps. The device comes with ‘Silent Phone’ –a private communication app which offers encrypted, secure voice calls, conference calling, video conferencing, secure text, and file transfers.

Also included is a ‘remote wipe’ setting, should the phone be lost or stolen this would effectively delete everything on the device. “Today our privacy is increasingly threatened by governments, businesses and individuals,” said Bill Conner, President and CEO of Silent Circle.

“In addition, the growing number of companies where employees work on their own devices in and out of the office means that it is ever more vital to build smartphones that deliver on privacy.”

Blackphone 2 has an octo-core Qualcomm processor, 3GB RAM, 32GB internal storage, removable Micro SD card, 5.5-inch Gorilla Glass display, and a 13MP camera.

Even though the device is aimed primarily at the business market, with its new added support the company hopes that its high-end security, specs and improved design will make it an attractive option for privacy-conscious consumers.

You will soon be able to purchase this device directly from the Silent Circle website for $799.

Read Article (Sophie Curtis | | 09/28/2015)

This is in fact a major step forward for all mobile device users, whether you’re concerned with privacy or not. Sooner or later invasion of privacy will affect everyone, it’s just a matter of time.

The message here is, the digital world demands we all need to be at the very least “a little tech-savvy”.

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