Is Your Data At Risk?

by Jack Conner

Close your eyes.  Imagine a world in which everyone knows everything about everyone else.  There are no secrets between people, no limits to what others know about each other.  Now open your eyes. Does the world you are in right now feel any different than the one you imagined?  It shouldn’t because this world of no privacy that you imagined is the one we are living in today.

 

The 21st century has seen the rapid advancement of technology at a pace so fast that people can hardly keep up.  Nowadays, people rely on this new technology for everything, from remembering homework assignments to tracking their finances.  Typically, people also have data on their devices that they would not want the entire world to know, such as their social security number or credit card information.  However, this data is contained by first-party data-holders; in other words, companies that let you use their services in return for your information. These companies include social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, along with search engines, like Google and Bing.  These websites can then sell your data to third-party data holders, who sell your data to political organizations, advertising companies, and practically anyone else who wants to buy your information.  

 

Until recently, these companies have operated in the dark, with no rules or restrictions prohibiting them from selling data, or even declaring who they are.  However, thanks to a recently passed Vermont law, a registry has been created to keep track of these third-party data holders. This registry requires data brokers to release opt-out plans to their users, but does not require brokers to release what data they have or whose it is.  Additionally, brokers are not required to let consumers access the data that the companies have on them, and brokers do not have to include opt-out programs. Still, this registry is a step in the right direction for data protection, and will hopefully spur more legislative access against the selling of data.  

 

Most people tend to believe that the only threat to their security, data-wise at least, is the selling of their personal information to these third-party companies.  This, however, is untrue. Information that is stored anywhere online can be subject to data breaches. Data breaches occur when any secure or private information is released, either accidentally or through the actions of hackers.  Any information stored online can suffer a data breach, revealing personal information that most people would not want to be released.   

Recently, the Flagstaff Unified School District in Arizona was the subject of a data breach through the Pearson publishing company.  This resulted in personal information about employees and students being obtained by the perpetrators of the data breach. Although Pearson confirmed that the data had not been misused, the fact that over 7,000 people’s data had been breached is a frightening number.  Since it happened once, what’s to stop something like this from happening again?

 

Well, there are protections against these types of attacks.  According to Ms. Dollard of Kennedy High School, “Fremont Unified School District requires all companies with whom it does business to submit an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) document that protects our staff and students from a third party data sell off.  This type of protection will help keep our data safe, but is not guaranteed to work because hackers are still a threat.” 

 

Data is constantly being bought and sold nowadays, and it seems as if legislators are not doing anything to stop this.  Although a registry was created, nothing has been done to prevent the selling of your data, and only so much can be done to prevent data breaches.  But people can do things on an individual basis to protect their own data. For example, people can be careful about what they post online, and not text potentially compromising information to others.  Additionally, people can go on safe, secure, and trusted websites, and not use cookies on these websites. By being safer on the internet and pushing the government to make laws regarding data selling, the world may one day be a place where your information is once again safe and secure.