Joe Cocker, WhiteSnake & Your Online Privacy

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joe-cockerEarlier this week I read about the death of Joe Cocker. He was one of my favorite artists when I was in college – but he came to fame much earlier as one of the breakout stars at Woodstock in 1969. However, it was the following year that I took notice of his cover of the Box Tops’ ‘The Letter.’ His unique mannerisms – and the rich, raw texture of his voice cast him apart from any other rocker of that era.

I still recall driving back from our month-long camping honeymoon listening to Joe Cocker on our 8-Track. He made the long, boiling hot and monotonous drive through Kansas – and many other states – bearable.

This week, thinking back to those more simple times, I reflected on how personal communication has changed.  For centuries there were few things more riveting or intimate than actual words, hand-written from the heart — to be read on paper. That’s why so many of us can relate to the words of ‘The Letter.

It’s hard to imagine old Joe singing:

Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane
Ain’t got time to take a fast train
Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home
My baby, just sent me a text

The art of writing, and the experience of finding in your mail-box, hand-written words of love and concern have long-since vanished. Moreover, so should the thought that today’s words of love and concern expressed via a digital device using 140 characters to be private. There is likely no turning back the clock.

Although, we spend significant time worrying about our kids being involved in sexting, bullying, ephemeral digital messages, and pornography – there should be equal concern about their privacy. There’s an entire industry that is trying to sell and buy our personal information. Much of this analysis of our personal data is done with the intent of marketing products to us based on their knowledge of our real interests. Sometimes that makes our life easier. Many a time I have purchased books from Amazon based on their knowledge of my likes and dislikes. However, as we have seen all too often following the Target, HomeDepot and Sony hacks – we can’t be guaranteed that our most intimate and private information could be distributed to others and to the world.

Our challenge as individuals, businesses and a nation is to enjoy the conveniences of our digital lives while mitigating the risk of this data being unwittingly or purposely distributed. The adoption of the PC by businesses and consumers in the 1980’s and then of the web in the 1990’s seemed like a wonderful migration to a faster and better world of communication. Few of us saw the unintended consequences of communicating on a global digital network.  Moreover, who thought that this network and even smaller devices would be navigated by children in the 3rd and 4th grade – with many establishing online personas often without adult supervision? Certainly not me.

CSI: Consumer Scene Investigation?

Just like a criminal on any number of the CSI TV shows, we leave evidence of our life when we use a digital device. If you’re online, you are giving up a little piece of who you are. It starts out rather small – for example the IP address of your device – but grows larger as you surf the web; fill out online forms; download apps; search words or any other activity. In that way, it’s much like a detective gathering evidence. It starts with something small; but as more evidence is gathered it allows the person or system analyzing the data to construct a more complete picture of who you are; where you go; and with whom you associate.

This information can be used by individual companies – or sold to third party organizations. While that might seem like a small price to pay to have access to such robust apps as Google, YouTube and Angry Birds– what happens when that information is compromised through hacking?


Most of us have heard of those tiny pieces of digital code called cookies. They’re one of those little annoyances of our digital life. How do they work? Well, when you visit many websites, they’ll often place cookies related to your visit on your hard drive. These seemingly innocent pieces of code might include information related to your login or registration identification, user preferences, online “shopping cart” information, and so on.

Sometimes the info is there simply to make the page load faster, or to make it easier for you to find information of interest. But as I mentioned earlier, sometimes this data is sold to third-parties.

You might also know that over time the collection of such cookies slows down the processing of device.

This Isn’t True With Mobile Devices… Right?

You might think using a mobile device makes it easier to secure your privacy. However, you’d be wrong. With mobile devices we generally use apps rather than simply surfing the web.  Apps often collect significant amounts of private information and send such data to the app-developer and even to third parties. This is particularly true of so called FREE apps.

What data might be collected by an app? Well, you might be surprised:

  • Your call logs
  • Where you are via your GPS
  • Your personal contacts
  • Your Calendar Information
  • Your internet data
  • Your unique IDs
  • Information about how you use the app itself

If It’s Good Enough For White Snake – It’s Good Enough For Me.

Maybe you’re the kind of person that believes that technology has corrupted an entire generation – and life was better in the 1980’s. Hey! There’s nothing wrong with the 1980’s other than the music and all of that big hair. The reality is that the era of big hair ushered in the ubiquitous corporate use of email.

As consumers began to adopt the web in the 1990’s email grew precipitously. Perhaps you remember those now famous words from your first AOL account, You’ve Got Mail. That first AOL account allowed us to send messages across the world to our most dear friends, relatives and perhaps our mortal enemies. What could go wrong here?

Well, we know that answer. General David Petraeus had his Gmail hacked revealing an affair that brought his once heralded career to a stunning end.

The Sony hack revealed thousands of personal and business emails that subsequently brought to a halt the distribution of a multi-million dollar movie.

Most of us know that when we correspond through e-mail we are giving information to the recipient that can be used to support or destroy us. However, you might also be giving information to any number of people, including your employer, the government, your e-mail provider, and anyone to whom your recipient chooses to share the message.  An unencrypted e-mail message can potentially be seen by anyone while that communication is in transit. If sent from an employer-owned device, it could be read by your employer.

If you use a webmail service such as Gmail or Yahoo, your e-mails could be scanned by the webmail provider. This is done to both to sort and detect spam and to better deliver appropriate ads to your account. For example: Gmail scans incoming e-mails and places relevant advertisements next to the e-mail.  Yahoo Mail performs different but somewhat similar scanning of email content.

Today’s reality is that we need to be aware of the risks involved in any communication using a digital device and network.

Your Child’s Favorite Apps

Apps often share your personal information with the developer of the app – including your general location. Be aware that a FREE app might be free for a reason. Read the “Terms of Use Agreement” before downloading any app to your device.

Personal information on your social media sites can be found by search engines such as Google and Bing. The only way you keep keep this data from finding its way into the hands of others is to lock your security setting to private or friends only. Even then, you have no control what your friends might do with your posts

Although most adults don’t use SnapChat, Kik, Whisper, Secret and other youth oriented apps – your children probably do. Each service posts its Terms of Service that few people read when the opt-in for the app. For example in SnapChat’s Privacy agreement they state:

Usage Information: We collect information about your activity and the messages you send and receive through our Services. For example, we collect information such as the time, date, sender, recipient of a message, the number of messages you exchange with your friends, which friends you exchange messages with the most, and your interactions with messages (such as when you open a message or capture a screenshot). We may collect that same basic information when you use Snapcash, along with the dollar amounts sent and received.

Information Collected by Cookies and Other Tracking Technologies: Like most online services, we use cookies, web beacons, and other technologies. Cookies are small data files stored on your hard drive or in device memory that store information about your use of the Services, which can, among other things, help us see which areas and features of the Services are popular and let us count visits.

There are many other items in their agreement that anyone using the service should read before using.

Public WebSites

We must understand that there is so much information about you already on public websites such as the auditor of your county that provides detailed information about your home, its value; your mortgage and your county taxes.

When you combine this data with that available by searching social media, a treasure-trove of information becomes available to anyone interested in learning more about you. One such service called Spokeo aggregates your personal social media data with public information available on government sites. For less than $4.00 per month you can easily research anyone. However, if you have all of your social media locked down to private or friends only – none of your social media information can be accessed.

Credit Cards

Personal information is attached to each of your credit cards – some of which have RFID chips that can be read by anyone nearby with an RFID reader. You can’t keep hackers from accessing your bank’s files – but you can keep your credit cards secure by using RFID Credit Card Protector sleeves.
These small, lined credit card holders block RFID signals and add another layer of personal identity protection.

Digital technologies have changed the way we work, play and raise our families. For the most part – it’s been a welcome evolution in our culture. But keeping track of these changes can be difficult.

To that end, I have included the following links to articles related to securing your online privacy and that of your children.

Sit back and turn on some music…and relax while reading these articles. Maybe even turn on Pandora and listen to a little Joe Cocker belting out A Letter… And realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. (Unless you actually are in Kansas.)

8 Most Devastating Data Breaches of 2014 Drone

Drone hacks WiFi networks, listens to calls, reads text messages

Are apps safe? Digital security and the B2C app — Gigaom Research


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