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Hey! You! Get Off of My iCloud!

When Mick Jagger shouted Hey Hey! You You! Get Off of My Cloud — he and Keith Richards were writing a follow-up to their hit SATISFACTION. That 1965 hit was in much part about commercialism. GET OFF OF MY CLOUD related more to frustration with the orderly world of the 1960s. Today “the cloud” has an altogether different meaning.

Although one might argue, that the world is far less ordered today as it relates to art, music and fashion — the information of our era makes the 1960’s look like anarchy. So much of how we communicate, make purchases and use digital systems is gathered, analysed, bought and sold and stored… you guessed it… in “the cloud.”

Last week I spoke to about 500 middle and high school students during our Responsible Technology speaking series. About 1/3 of our the program focuses on privacy in a digital world. On this particular day I asked the question: “When I shop at a grocery store while using my loyalty card, the grocer gives me a discount on certain products and on gasoline. Why? Are they simply nice people? Or is there something about that card that makes this profitable to them?” Silence.

I then mentioned, “How is that the ads that I see down the right side of my Facebook page all seem to be related to my interest?” Some students had answers – but none of them were correct.

Lastly, I asked the students, “Do any of you know what the word bartering means?” One young man seated at the back of the auditorium said, “It’s kind of like trading things.” In reality, that pretty much summed up bartering. I then asked, “What does this have to do with living in a digital world? Again, I was met with silence.

Bartering has everything to do with living in a digital world. Every day we barter with retailers, gas stations, and web sites when we use loyalty cards, surf the web, and use certain apps. We trade the use of these digital services in exchange for our private information.

Play with FREE apps you download from GooglePlay or iTunes? You’re giving up private information?
Listen to Pandora? You’re giving up private information?
Look up things on Google? You’re giving up private information?
Use Google Maps? You’re giving up private information?
Shop at CVS and use their Rewards Card? You’re giving up private information?

In 2013 the Associated Press reported, Safeway and others had increased efforts to use customer’s shopping histories to present personalized coupons while increasing spending. In that same AP article, Safeway CEO Steve Burd said “There’s going to come a point where our shelf pricing is pretty irrelevant because we can be so personalized in what we offer people.” This capability is all driven by data.

I think we all agree, that can be a good thing for consumers and businesses – but ONLY if we understand that such personal information is being collected. Moreover, and ONLY if that data is protected and not resold. As we have seen all too often, data is not always protected.

Think data is safe? Ask executive at Sony – or customers of Target and HomeDepot.
Think of everything that we might do in a typical day that actually involves providing and collecting data. Imagine the profile that can be constructed when you aggregate all of the following information:

• When I use my loyalty card each morning at Panera Bread.
• When I log into my account at the Wall Street Journal Online.
• When I use my free GPS driving directions from Google when driving to an appointment.
• When I purchase groceries and use my rewards card – and subsequently stop and redeem those rewards for gasoline.
• When I use my credit card to pay for these groceries and gasoline.
• When I look up news articles on my Google or BING News Page.
• When I check my Gmail account for mail.
• When I play Angry Birds with my grandkids.
• When I post a picture on Facebook or Instagram for my friends to see,
• When I download music from iTunes.
• When I download an app from iTunes.
• When I use SnapChat or Kik to contact a friend.
• When I purchase a home.

In aggregate, my entire life is an open book just through some of the above actions. When you include purchasing a home, much of your personal information becomes part of the public domain – and is now available on the auditor’s website. This means services such as SPOKEO can scrape the web for all of your social media postings and combine it with all publicly available information. One of the first places Spokeo finds free information is Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Vine and Youtube. Publicly available information is easily found on your county auditor’s website site.

You have little control what information your auditor provides to the public. However, you can keep individuals and services such as Spokeo from grabbing your social media information by locking your private information down to PRIVATE or FRIENDS ONLY.

I have several article and videos on this site to help you control your privacy and to better understand how you can protect your family and their online activity. If you have any thoughts or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime, remember, if you think you’re getting something for free – you probably just traded some of your private information.

By understanding how social media, websites, apps and rewards cards actually work, you’ll have a much better chance of keeping services such as Spokeo, “off of your cloud.”

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