A simple tip about smartphones and your privacy

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Privacy is dead, get over it. This is what a blockchain entrepreneur told a Conference at the European Court of Justice on September 30, 2016. In the very room where this Court ruled against Google in linking indiscriminately to websites carrying personal data that was against European privacy standards, the speaker was arguing that we should all throw in the towel and stand naked. We are on public display, our every move a matter of public opportunity, every trace of our existence readily known to others.

And yet, we know this is not true. If privacy were dead, I told the Conference, offering an American perspective on Europe’s approach to personal data, we would know all the details of Donald Trump’s tax returns and we would have access to every email of Hillary Clinton from both public and private servers while she was Secretary of State. And we don’t.

Personal data privacy is alive and well. But it is under attack. And our own worst enemy is ourselves. Humans are not good at preserving our privacy.

Let me give you just one example. If you have an iPhone, take it out now. Got it? Ok – click Settings. Find the Privacy button and click on it. Now click on Location Services. Is this on? If so, it’s helping you track where you are right now, and Google uses this to help you find your way to a restaurant or wherever you want to go. Now for to a button many people never locate – System Services – down at bottom. Click on Frequent Locations. This shows you where you’ve been. Whenever you’ve had this tracking it, it’s kept data about it – every hour and day.

So what, you might say? Well, do you use non-protected websites with your phone? What if you lose your phone, or put it down on the plane for a few minutes? Then anyone can access your phone in seconds and have a trace on everywhere you’ve visited kept there. And you might consider, do you need to know where you’ve been? Perhaps you’ll decide like me there’s no reason to risk letting a stranger track your every move. You may not want a kidnapping ring in a foreign country knowing you’re waiting at the airport taxi stand – or may not want your employer to know you’re in a job interview elsewhere – or let a burglary gang know you’re in Florida on vacation – or – you fill in the blank here.

To eliminate this risk – just turn this off Frequent Locations, and you’ll see that history disappear. You can still keep the other Location buttons on – or you might keep them off until you actually need them on and turn them off when you don’t.

After all, data privacy is not really about protecting data. It’s about protecting you.

That’s the tip for today. Privacy is not dead. But our willingness and effort to protect our own personal data may be disappearing. We want convenience but we also want some level of privacy. And remember, protecting your personal data starts with you.