Four ways technology invades your privacy

Robert Powell looks at four ways technology spies on you...

From shopping to socialising, it’s undeniable that technological developments have revolutionised our lives.

Yet as the internet has enveloped our days and smartphones have spread across the nation, more and more of us have started sacrificing our privacy to the digital world.

Just last month, it emerged that owners of Apple’s iPhone have been unwittingly allowing their portable pal to record their every movement and store it in a secret file inside the handset.

And this isn’t the only brazen case of eavesdropping that has been brought about by our modern obsession with all things tech...


101 million people worldwide now own a smartphone with more of these portable devices being sold every year than PCs. But while smartphones allow you to stay online and linked in to the world wherever you are, this doesn’t come without a price.

As I mentioned earlier, Apple came under fire last month when it was revealed that iPhones keep track of their exact location and save it to a secret file on the device. This file is then transferred to the owner’s computer when the smartphone is hooked up to it.

The data includes the latitude and longitude of the handset along with a timestamp, meaning an accurate map can be plotted of the owner’s travels with their phone.

But other than the creepy nature of knowing that your phone is keeping a digital footprint of your every move, a safety issue also arises from this secret location record. If you get your phone or computer stolen, you’re essentially handing over a detailed history of your movements to a stranger.

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Apple’s secret tracker is also bad news for cheating spouses. Indeed, divorce lawyers must be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of obtaining a detailed record of the movements of a suspected adulterer!

Worryingly, this isn’t the only private information that your iPhone secretly stores about you; the handset also has a record of keyboard strokes. This function was initially designed to help with speedy, predictive texting but also means that anything typed by a user over the past three to 12 months can actually be retrieved from the handset and viewed.

For some further ways that your mobile phone keeps tabs on you, read How your phone spies on you.

Credit referencing

As I reported in How your bank manager is spying on you, lenders will now look at 60 to 80 different referencing factors when deciding whether to give you credit. These include your utility payments record, mobile phone bills, estimated house price and even the solvency of your postcode in general. But they will also be keeping tabs on your general monetary state and looking out for any 'financial events' that could affect your ability to repay them.

These events are flagged up to lenders through the use of ‘risk triggers’ by credit scoring agencies. Agencies will use around 250 different types of trigger such as missed mortgage, utility or telephone payments or an increase in spending on your credit card; basically anything that suggests you’re having money troubles.

From here, the lender will be able to put pressure on you to repay them quickly, as well as slashing your overdraft or credit card limit in order to reduce the financial risk you pose to them.

But banks are not just interested in those customers who get into money troubles; they are also keen to be alerted if your financial situation improves. That’s why you shouldn’t be surprised if a few weeks after your salary is upped or your credit card spending decreases, you receive a letter from your bank offering you a brand new card more suitable for your improved financial situation.

Social networking

For many, social networking profiles have rapidly become concise, constantly updating and wide ranging online identities. Thousands will continually update their profile with personal information, up-to-the-minute location data and holiday, weekend or work plans. But by doing this you’re not just sharing personal information with your friends and family, you’re also handing it over to a whole web of strangers.

It’s no surprise that burglars will now scour social networks looking for potential targets. So whatever you do, don’t post details of your address or any holiday plans to your profile or you could find an unwanted visitor drops by while you’re away from home.

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But burglars aren’t the only people snooping on social networks. Advertisers have also realised the potential of sites such as Facebook to provide a platform for targeting customers more directly.

An obvious example of this is the advertising that appears in your web browser when you log onto Facebook. These ads are selected and targeted at you depending on your personal preferences. So if you’ve admitted to being an Oasis fan on your profile, don’t think it a coincidence if adverts for Oasis merchandise pop up when you log in.

Another major threat to your privacy when using social networks comes from third party applications that operate within the social network but are downloaded from external sites. Some of these apps will hijack your personal data and use it to advertise products to other users. The notorious example is the male Facebook user who logged into his account only to find an advert for a dating site pop up accompanied by a picture of his wife!

Fortunately you can stop this from happening by heading to the privacy settings tab on your Facebook profile and clicking on the apps, games and websites button where you can select exactly what information apps are allowed to use.

Street View

One of the biggest privacy issues raised by recent technological developments is that of Google’s controversial Street View service. The tool – that uses photos obtained from car-mounted cameras to create panoramic, walkthrough street images – has been widely criticised as a research tool for burglars. But many are just uncomfortable with the idea of their home, driveway and road being available online for all to see.

Yet the intrusive nature of photographs wasn’t the only privacy criticism levelled at Street View. Soon after Google launched its service it emerged that the Street View cars had not just been collecting images. Hoards of private information including passwords, usernames, web addresses and even whole e-mails had also been gathered from unprotected wireless networks.

Google at first denied it had collected the data but soon gave way to the information commissioner and was forced to delete the information and apologise.

What do you think?

Does technology spy on us? Are we sacrificing our privacy through the use of technology?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below.

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