Privacy Paranoia: 5 companies you should think twice before trusting

Can anything you do online remain truly private in this day and age? One out of every eight people in the world has a Facebook account that they fill with personal information. People tweet details about their daily lives. And it seems that every site we visit online wants to install a cookie to track our online progress.

But just because we live in a culture where privacy is often willingly surrendered, you shouldn't give up and give away your information to just anyone. Past problems with these five corporate giants should definitely make you think twice.

Facebook is already using the plethora of information it has gathered about you to deliver ads tailored to your specific tastes. If you use applications within Facebook, those third parties have access to all your personal information, as well. And of course, should your account ever be hacked, you risk a complete stranger's learning and being able to exploit every intimate detail about you, including your address and phone number.

The good news is that Facebook has a number of tools to manage privacy settings, offering you control over who sees what information you post. But even this may not keep you safe. Remember that embarrassing picture of yourself that you deleted off Facebook three years ago? A recent study shows that it likely still exists — Facebook never deleted it. This example is far from the first privacy misstep Facebook made, and it surely won't be the last.

And here's another scary anti-privacy trend related to Facebook: More and more job applicants are being asked to surrender their Facebook passwords by prospective employers. It's not just job searchers who need to fear for their privacy, either — if your children play in college athletics, they may have already been forced to give a school official total access to their Facebook account as a prerequisite to playing.

2. Sony
Things began to go south for Sony when its PlayStation Network (PSN) was hacked in April 2011. That breach exposed millions of names, addresses, usernames, and passwords, exposing PSN users to the threat of identity theft. It took Sony a full month to assess the damage and bring the PSN back online.

But the first attack was merely the tip of Sony's privacy iceberg. The PSN was brought down almost immediately after it went back online in May 2011 by a new security exploit. A few days after that, Sony websites in Thailand and Japan were hacked, with the bad guys stealing about $1,200 in customer funds. And in October 2011, an estimated 93,000 PSN accounts were breached — a third black eye for a company that had yet to heal from its previous two.

Few companies have impacted the way we view and use technology over the last decade quite the way Apple has. And perhaps it's precisely because so many of us rely on iPads and iPhones that this next revelation is so devastating. Until last month, Apple readily allowed third-party app developers access to your phone's address book without your knowledge. Some apps even gave hackers a back door into your phone, albeit unintentionally.

News of these privacy violations broke when it was revealed that the increasingly popular social networking app Path was not only accessing users' contacts but uploading the contacts to a private server. The revelation was enough to draw congressional attention, with Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) demanding Apple reveal which apps have access to this info and why it allows app makers to grab address book data without telling us.

Apple quickly responded to Congress that apps such as Path were in violation of its guidelines and that it would be implementing a software patch to prevent apps from accessing address books without our knowledge in the future. Still, it's chilling that Apple let the practice go on long enough for one iOS app developer to brag that he had access to Bill Gates's and Mark Zuckerberg's cell phone numbers.

4. Your phone carrier
Given the strict federal rules against wiretapping, communications privacy, and computer fraud, you might find it downright shocking to learn that your wireless carrier might have full access to every single keystroke you make on your mobile device. But that might be exactly the case, all thanks to a little-known company in Mountain View, California, named Carrier IQ.

Carrier IQ's software, which bills itself as a tool for mobile providers to help assist customers during support calls, was preinstalled on many smartphones currently in use without customers' knowledge. The company insisted for the longest time that its software did not have the ability to log browser data and text message contents, but an intrepid Android blogger posted a YouTube video showing the software doing exactly that.

Is your phone saddled with Carrier IQ spyware? It's possible — at least if you're using an AT&T, a Sprint, or a T-Mobile phone. Thankfully, Carrier IQ's days of spying may be over. Apple, one of the largest suppliers of smartphones, stopped supporting the Carrier IQ service when iOS 5 was released last year. Further, Congress is moving aggressively to stop the practice from ever happening again, and a number of states have filed civil and criminal suits against the company.

We want to love Google, we really do. The company does a lot of social good, from helping save the Great Barrier Reef to trying to engineer the future of driverless cars. But even though it pains us to do so, we have to include Google on our list because of the most recent changes to the company's privacy policy.

On March 1, all sites within the Google network began sharing your personal information with each other. If you watch a video for a political candidate on YouTube, Google might start serving you ads asking you to make a donation to candidates with similar political views. Every single search you make on Google adds to its level of knowledge about you — the company knows if you're pregnant, if you suffer from heartburn, and even if you're a smoker.

Sure, we trust that no summer intern at Google HQ rifles through filing cabinets filled to the brim with your most embarrassing web searches. But the simple fact that this massive treasure trove of information exists somewhere means that the potential for this information to fall into the wrong hands exists. Given how influential Google is to the web experience and given the fact that you can't actually opt out from Google's new policy, it's hard to protect your privacy from the company. Still, you're not entirely helpless — you can easily erase your Google history and stop the company from collecting information about you in the future.

Play it smart
As technology becomes a bigger and bigger part of our social lives, it's likely the trend of voluntarily surrendering our privacy will continue. But that doesn't mean you can't be smart about whom you give information to and how much you share. Familiarize yourself with the privacy policies for your favorite sites and businesses, and opt out of having your data collected. If you have kids, be sure to educate them about the dangers of sharing highly personal information with strangers online.

[Image credit: Robert Scoble]

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Tecca

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Comment by wildfire on March 17, 2012 at 5:10pm

Thanks for the info!

Comment by Robert Carobene on March 17, 2012 at 11:59am
Thanks for your link :)
Comment by Amaterasu Solar on March 17, 2012 at 10:11am

@Robert Carobene IF We do nothing, yes.  IF We wrest overunity ("free energy") from where They hide it...things will get better and better.  Please view My petition to understand why free energy is the key.

Comment by Robert Carobene on March 17, 2012 at 6:14am

it will only get worse much worse!

Comment by Anthony Kimbrough on March 17, 2012 at 12:45am

Good article.

Comment by suzie on March 16, 2012 at 8:03pm

we can and should have am expectation of privacy.. it is easy to get any information about anyone but should it be held against you?  No.... and i would think it is unconstitutional to search my personal intellectual property without permission or warrant.  We are entering into an area unknown and there will be mistakes made.. If we live to fight another day i believe anything that requires a password should be considered private. In this world right now they PTB are trying to use it to control everyone and that is not ethical or constitutional ..I like profit but i am opposed to greed! Restore the constitution for the united states of America! Look if i labor for the seed and farm the land and harvest the crop and another just sat around all summer basking in hay and swimming in the pond and not helping me water the crop,  drinking milk from my cow and eating all my apples from trees i labored to grow those apples and did nothing but watch me sweat,.. When it comes time to benefit from my crop i do not think that guy should get a damned thing.. He or she should go hungry until he is willing to do "something" to make a profit so he can also grow his crop.. If i just give it to him because i say i LOVE him i am a liar..  the one who loves him will let him go hungry because anything else keeps him lazy and a fool... 

Comment by Amaterasu Solar on March 16, 2012 at 2:57pm

Google is about the only thing I use.  I have never, nor will I ever, check in at the Hotel Califacebook (You can check out any time You like, but You can never leave...).  I like the Xbox...  Will get another someday.  Have no Apples...  Have a free phone for po' folk...  Not the greatest security, but hey.  It's all I can afford.  And I rarely use it - just for emergencies and calling potential employers.

All in all, there is no place We can hide.  Let's get rid of the need for money!

"Destroying the New World Order"


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