Apps & Software

Is Your Personal Data Under Siege by Tech Nasties?

Hand-held tech, wearable tech, tech in the home, and even tech when you sleep. Today, we are being monitored, contacted, and reminded by copious amounts of technological devices connected to the Internet of Things.

We are all immersed in a Big Brother world and there is personal data floating around the globe about you as you read this article. The scary thing is, you aren’t even aware it is there.

There are varying degrees of data and tech breaches affecting businesses and individuals. The article below might just open your eyes to invasions happening right under your nose.

Big Bad Facebook

You’re uploading photographs from a visit to friends, and you begin the laborious task of tagging your pals in the images. However, have you ever noticed that Facebook somehow miraculously makes a pretty good guess as to the individuals in the photos? Granted, it saves your thumbs, but what is really going on?

Both Facebook and Google have been running facial-recognition software on uploaded photos. This is not a new feature; it has been going on for years. On the surface, it just seems like a harmless way of helping out the user, but could there be a sinister side to the software?

In September 2012, Facebook came under fire from the Irish data protection commissioner. Regulators from the DPC demanded widespread changes were made to Facebook’s privacy practices on Facebook Ireland (FB-I), which also is responsible for millions of users outside the US and Canada. Facing a hefty fine, the facial recognition feature was turned off for new EU users, but anyone from other countries, or EU users who had Facebook before 2012, are still stuck with the intrusive breach.

Another seemingly tame offering from Facebook is the ability to like, share, and comment. Today, you do not even need to be on Facebook itself to engage with a company, brand, or individual, as their Facebook buttons appear on websites. Most of us trawl the web without logging out of Facebook, but this means that companies can see which websites you visit. This allows for targeted ads to draw you back to their website. A quick fix for this privacy breach; simply log out of Facebook and continue browsing.

tech security

Dark Side of EXIF

It seems that photographs will be the bane of our virtual lives. Not only are our faces recognised, but data can also be used to pin point locations. Every single image we capture (unless you are in the know) is imprinted with EXIF files. These are fantastic for professional photographers as it reveals details about the camera used, and copyright and contact details can be embedded too.

However, somebody in the world realised that EXIF data can contain the exact location the image was taken without us even knowing. Most mobile phones and digital cameras have built-in GPS, and this is where the problem lies. Luckily, if you tinker around with the settings you can disable embedding location data into the EXIF. Most of us are completely oblivious that we are uploading potentially sensitive data and luckily Facebook and Twitter erase metadata on upload.

I Can See You

Undoubtedly this is the most terrifying security breach; strangers watching you go about your day. However, camera jacking is a real occurrence. Through webcams and mobile phone cameras, strangers can get a private view of your life without you even knowing. Researcher Szymon Sidor discovered that the only way to hack cameras was to use a review screen. However, this review screen only needs to be one pixel in size; not at all obvious.

Camera paranoia is very real, and you may see many people with their webcams covered up. In 2013 researchers proved that you could activate a MAC user’s webcam without the obligatory green light showing. Furthermore, federal court records in the USA state that the FBI are a dab hand at using laptop cameras to spy on criminals.

Uber Gets Ugly

The lure of cheap cabs through an app on your mobile phone has not fooled everyone. On the surface, the data that Uber retains in regards to journey history and driver information can go a long way in protecting its clients when disputes and legal allegations are made. However, Uber’s track record isn’t sparkling when it comes to what they do with client data.

In March 2012, Uber released a blog post on their website titled Rides of Glory. This may seem like a perfectly valid title, until you get to the crux of the article. Turns out, the data analysts over at Uber went to a great deal of effort to track those who were using the cab service for intimate late night rendezvous. They even went as far as to name locations where this kind of activity was happening.

It seems that Uber has zero regard for its riders’ privacy and data. Fast forward two years, with who knows what happening during that period, Uber were caught off-guard again. A general manager of Uber in New York was to interview with a reporter from BuzzFeed News. Holding his iPhone up to the reporter he exclaimed, “I was tracking you.” Turns out it wasn’t the first time he had tracked her either.

Uber claims that they only use private data for ‘legitimate business purposes’. However, without access to Uber’s inner sanctum, none of us can feel entirely comfortable that our private information isn’t being used for questionable activity.