Your Data Trail this Summer


As honeymooners set sail for romantic trips, families hit the road to enjoy nature (and hopefully each other) and students travel the world to "find themselves," tracking the every move of these rolling stones will be a breeze.


That's because most of us - whether we opt-in or not - are sharing information on our whereabouts simply by using the gadgets, devices, nifty tools and apps that have become a part of our everyday lives.


Read on for tips on covering your data tracks this summer, as well as the latest headlines troubling the world's privacy professionals. 

What's in Your Data Cloud?  


Did you know that each of us has our own virtual data cloud, following us around and storing information about our purchases, our behaviors, our favorite things and even our locations?  


As more data is stored, you become associated with the stuff you buy, where you buy it and when you buy it. For example, your credit card number is associated with your frequent locations, along with your photos and videos you post online, or even just take with location-enabled smart devices. All of this info is fed into "Big Data" analytics tools, making you pretty easy to spot, track and target. 


Nearly everything you do on a smartphone (if it isn't properly protected) is tracked. And while the tracking entities may not react to each bit of activity, you can bet they are monitoring it, learning a lot about you and your behaviors so they can begin to predict where you will go, how much you will spend and what offers are likely to motivate you to act in a way that benefits their cause, not to mention all they learn about your family and friends.   


So, what's in your data cloud today that could rain on you tomorrow?  


Avoid Too Much 'Liking' on Facebook


In recent issues of this Tips message, we've discussed the phenomenon of Facebook user "Likes" becoming searchable. The reason this is troubling is because your "Likes" most likely do not paint the most accurate picture of you. What's more, when taken out of context, those "Likes" could tarnish or diminish your hard-earned reputation.  



The good news is you can control how much of your "Like-ing" activity is monitored. And below is a step-by-step instruction for how to do exactly that. One word of caution: Following these steps will disable all of your Facebook apps. (Thank you to my Facebook friend Peggy for this helpful tip!)

  1. Click on the gear-like icon in the upper right-hand corner of Facebook and choose Privacy Settings.
  2. Click "Apps" from left-hand navigation menu. You will see a list of the apps currently authorized to pull your data.
  3. Across from "Apps you use," there is an Edit button. Click this to see if your Facebook platform is on. If you want to stop these apps from pulling and potentially sharing your data, click "Turn Off Platform."
  4. Once the button is clicked, two things happen: 1) You can't use any Facebook apps, nor can you "Like" third-party pages outside of Facebook; 2) Facebook's integration with third-party websites will be blocked.

When you want to use apps, just turn this back on. Then, when you are done using the apps for the moment, turn it back off. If you're like me, and don't use many Facebook apps, this is a very easy way to help protect your privacy on Facebook.      



Snapchat Doesn't Delete, Just Hides


Snapchat, a new mobile app that promises users it will "delete" their photos permanently just seconds after they've been received by another user, may be stretching the truth just a tad... a significant tad!


The photos users send to each other - which may be of a sensitive nature given the promise to be deleted - aren't actually trashed. Rather, they are buried deeply in the subdirectories of a device, such as a smartphone or tablet. The Snapchat developers seem to justify calling this a deletion because it would be very difficult to find an image in these subdirectories. 


Note I said "very difficult," not "impossible." Hiding something is NOT the same as deleting something!


Snapchat is an example of something developers build simply because they canapparently without trying to implement effective security controls, and because they are hoping to have the next "cool" tool. Too many developers design these tools with what appears to be reckless abandon and without regard to the unintended consequences of the lack of security and privacy controls.


What happens from there is the cool app becomes extremely popular and is used by millions, creating a pack mentality and a false sense of security. Teens especially may think, "If all my friends are doing it, it can't be that dangerous."


Cases like Snapchat demonstrate we are living in a time of not only "buyer beware," but certainly "user beware," as well.



Your Personal Information Fuels Big Business


Consumers aren't the only ones planning vacations this year. U.S. legislators will get a break from the grind this summer, as well. 


After they enjoy their time away from law-making, I wonder, will they come back refreshed and ready to consider laws to prevent data brokerage firms from eroding privacy completely?


A recent Washington Post article spells out the privacy risks posed by these long-time data collectors and sellers. The reporter wrote:


"The data brokerage industry, however, works differently. These companies compile information from a variety of sources, including court databases and records of consumer behavior, to develop profiles of individuals that can be marketed to other companies. Typically, the subjects of these profiles have no idea how their information is collected and used."


These organizations also are gathering available data from social networks, making their data an even hotter commodity for marketers (and we can only guess who else). This is just one more reason to check and update your privacy settings in the various online accounts you hold. If you haven't done this recently (or at all), don't feel bad. You're not alone. As Mashable recently reported, some 13 million Facebook users "haven't even touched their privacy settings." 


Here is just one example, detailing how Facebook has teamed up with data brokerage firms to optimize their advertising initiatives. And in other Facebook data news, my friend Tommy recently experienced a troubling incident inside his feed. He shared the following with me in a note:


The other day, I saw a picture of a long-time friend and a post in my Facebook feed. I thought it was something he had posted because it had his picture just like other posts people put up. But the post wasn't from him at all; it was an ad for Southwest Airlines. 


My friend had "Liked" Southwest. I did not realize that "Liking" Southwest, something many do simply to get their coupons, may mean I've agreed to be used in their ads. Seeing this friend's picture makes me suspicious that my picture is doing the same thing on other people's Facebook feeds. It's a brave new world out there, and I know many of my generation, myself included, are very clueless of the implications of our privacy settings.


NOTE: To help prevent this from happening to you or your friends, see the steps to take earlier in this Tips message! 


When Google Tells You Not to Worry


I'm certain I wasn't the only one who found recent comment by the executive chairman of Google a bit ironic (given the vast amount of ways Google tracks those using their products). As reported by CNET, the head honcho said this about the unwanted tracking of consumers:


"Governments won't allow it, and it will be bad business," he said. "In a competitive environment, businesses actually want their consumers to be happy."


In fact, however, the U.S. government is already allowing it. Maybe not expressly, but simply because lawmakers and regulators today cannot keep up with the rapid development of technological devices, software and analytics tools.


Of course businesses want to keep their customers happy. But for every executive who says data collection and analysis is bad business, there are seven others who will tell you it's excellent for business and for customers, as well. Some will even go so far as to say that spying on their customers allows them to provide better products, more targeted offers and a "more fulfilling" customer experience.


It's always good to follow the famous advice of President Ronald Reagan: "Trust, but verify." While it's entirely possible companies and organizations are using "Big Data" to improve their businesses, their operations and their efficiencies, you want to be sure they are doing this professionally and in a way that protects your information from falling into the wrong hands. 

Warn Family Members to Be Cautious While You're Away


A common scam fraudsters run on the elderly is to call and pretend to be a loved one stuck in some horrendous scenario while vacationing in a far-away locale. This is just one of many scams to warn your family members about before heading out for your vacation.


Thank you to my friend Tara overseas for sharing this article about 27 more scams to avoid. You can click through to read the entire thing, but here are a few of the more concerning ones that frequently target elderly victims:


Home maintenance services: A company offers a cheap quote to for maintenance or gardening services. They demand an upfront cash payment to start or finish the job - then escape with the money or make unreasonable charges for botched work. 


Fake dates: Someone joins a dating website and is contacted by an extremely good-looking potential date who lives abroad. After starting an online romance, the scammer asks for money for emergency bills.


Missed payments: Victims are sent a fake tax bill or told they are in arrears, and are asked to pay immediately over the phone. 


Take a read of the scams and warn your friends and family, particularly elderly parents and grandparents. If you're concerned someone may impersonate you to steal money, develop a secret passcode known only to family members. Run practice drills until your family members become comfortable asking for this secret passcode should anyone ever ask them to send money over the phone or email. 

QUICK TIP: Check Your Credit Report for Free


Many people are unaware that each of the three credit reporting bureaus are legally required to provide consumers one free credit report each year. My advice is to set yourself calendar reminders. Also, be sure to stagger your requests to each agency throughout the year. That way you can check your scores (and monitor for anyone who may be attempting to use your identity) up to three times annually for free. 


You Have My Permission to Share


I receive a lot of requests to repurpose the information contained in these Tips messages, so I wanted to drop a quick note in here to say, "Yes, I approve!" Please use the following attribution so that others will know where to find me if they have additional questions about the material you pass along.


Source: Rebecca Herold (a.k.a. The Privacy Professor),



Here's to an outstanding summer - wherever it may take you. I wish you happy and safe vacation time and for your continued diligence to protect your privacy no matter where you are!

Happy Travels! 



The Privacy Professor®
Rebecca Herold & Associates, LLC
Mobile: 515.491.1564, Business: 515.996.2199