Privacy is disappearing faster than we realize. According to international private investigators the new conditions under the pandemic have worsened the situation, as companies and governments are masking mass surveillance practices and privacy violations under policies and actions to stop the virus from spreading. And of course, the initial thought of most people is to agree, because no one wants to get sick. However, are these policies and practices really designed to fight the pandemic?
We have seen this happen in the past with terrorism. When fear is greater than common sense, governments and powerful companies take advantage of the situation to expand their domains. For a long time, people have been giving out private information in order to use convenient, fun and largely free apps and services, and we’re only now understanding the true cost. People have little to no control over the data that companies and the government collect about them.
As the coronavirus spreads along with misinformation and fear, many internet users are disclosing other people’s personal data on social media. Lists of COVID-19 patients, including their names and addresses, personal IDs, and copies of their passports, have landed in numerous Facebook groups and are being circulated via WhatsApp and other platforms on the pretext of preventing onward transmission of the virus. In most cases, the goal is to shame people into adhering to lockdown and quarantine orders. And while regular individuals just want to shame others, governments, tech companies and online criminals are profiting from all this personal data!
Governments and tech companies are taking advantage of the situation by deploying tracking and monitoring apps and facial recognition surveillance in response to COVID19, which further risks undermining people’s right to privacy and data protection. And criminals… well who knows what they will be doing with such a vast amount of valuable information.
How to Protect Yourself
You do not need to be completely off the grid to be safe. There are ways you can still use the internet and the useful apps but still protect your privacy. Start by learning how to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). It is used to encrypt traffic between your device and the websites and services you access online. This way, the data collected will be the one of your VPN and not your own.
Disable the GPS on your phone every time you can, and disable the location tracking. Use it only when it is absolutely necessary. The GPS, the microphone and the camera in your device are being monitored a lot more than we would think or want. So, try disconnecting everything unless they are really necessary, like if you get lost in an unknown city or are traveling in a new location.
Share as little as you can about your personal life on social media and other apps. Most tech companies and governments state they depersonalize the information collected by removing names, but a simple cross reference can identify anyone. This is a part that users can control, do not voluntarily provide online criminals with your personal data.
Use common sense. Does that Pictionary app really need access to your device’s camera, microphone, contacts and files? Of course not. Many of the apps on the market are designed solely to collect data, so do not install everything you find on the app store. Nothing is truly free.
And last but not least, be careful with online dating! Many privacy violations came in the form of romantic partners online, who are only trying to steal your data. If you are an online dating user or meet people on social media, hire a professional dating background check to verify you are communicating with a legitimate and honest person and not just a fraudster preying on your data.
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