Your Personal Data Is Being Collected


Is It Piracy When They Steal From You?

data-pirateIt seems ironic that every software company out there cries about “Software Piracy” and then turns around and steals your personal data. I know that some companies claim transparency but in truth, simple acts like signing your smartphone contract give them access to your personal data.

In a recent article published by Ashampoo, they were surprised that Microsoft Windows was not the biggest collector of your personal data but rather Microsoft Office, Particularly the newest versions. Exactly what data is taken is hard to determine because it is all encrypted.

The Dutch Government has currently initiated an investigation into the data collection procedures by Microsoft Office and published a report.  Right after their report, Microsoft released its data collection policy.

The EU has been very aggressive in defending the Privacy laws of their individuals. I believe this helps all of us even though the US lags behind. My one bone of contention is they only seem to sue the big boys like Google, Microsoft, Facebooks, etc. That obviously provides a bigger payday for them. I have yet to hear of them going after any company that has an annual income of less than billions.

Exactly Who Is Collecting Data

The simple answer is just about everyone. Even privacy-conscious Apple admits to collecting data on users and according to one security firm’s report, over 24,000 Apple Apps collect personal data. We all know that Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft do it. Even Linux users are no longer immune. Canonical had decided that it will include data collection tools in the Ubuntu 18.04 installer. As far as phone and computer Apps, let’s face it, we have all seen the list of what an App is going to collect and click on “OK” anyway.


An example is “Norton Safe Web”. If you look at the permissions you agree to, it can make you question their reasons:

norton-web-safe-disclaimer

On the surface, it appears very intrusive. But is it? Frankly, it is up to the user to decide to either accept or not use the App. I don’t believe they are using this information in a bad way, but honestly, that is just an assumption. I don’t really know.

How Does Data Collection Affect You?

Right now, there appears to be a certain degree of awareness and fear in individuals in just what data is being collected and used against them. In reading the Ashampoo article, it does appear to steer you towards fear rather than explain how we are affected.

So, what exactly do we have to fear?  I really don’t believe that the major players out there are gathering “dirt” to harm us. I am not so sure about the smaller companies. I have no doubt that data collection is profitable and that is why it is done and not to gather private information for some nefarious reason. One major problem is that regardless of the purity of the reason to collect the data, it can be stolen. That is why a certain amount of security and responsibility must be in place before a company should be allowed to collect personal data.

Orwellian Fears

Any data that is collected and compiled in an anonymous way is harmless to us and helpful and profitable to software manufacturers. However, if anyone is collecting my personal data, I want much more transparency on the “what and why” part. Data that just puts you in brackets, like age, salary range, sex, and product purchases are harmless, and I don’t mind them collecting that. However, I am more concerned about how they use it. If the following basic rules are used, I don’t see the harm:


  • First of all, they should make you aware that they are collecting it
  • Secondly, any data collected should not be associated with an individual
  • If they use it to improve their product or even increase their profit, we should benefit somehow
  • Finally, firm laws should be made to prevent them from using it against us

I understand the exception to this is that some governments demand companies maintain records for a period of time. Reasons like terrorists sending messages through social media, Russia and other countries flooding our sites with propaganda, and true hate-related crimes are all good reasons for that. Even that data should only be obtainable through legal warrants.

Pushing Back

When we try to push back then the more pop-ups we have to endure. Who has not seen the following lines on a webpage?

  • By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts
  • This site would like to send you notifications
  • This site uses Cookies (OK, Got It)

cookie-message

Summary

I have very mixed feelings about data collection. In most cases, I really don’t care. I know I haven’t done anything wrong and don’t mind honest data-mining tactics used by companies. Obviously, I am assuming they are taking steps to secure the data from being stolen and that they are encrypting the data so that, if stolen, it can’t be used by others.

I do not approve of any data mining that collects personal data other than what is necessary for transactions with a company. It should only be stored for a reasonable time. In no instance should they be allowed to sell it.

Mining data just to turn around and sell that data to someone else should not be allowed unless it is just raw analytics that does not contain names or ways to identify someone.

Finally, I would like to hear your views on data mining. Do you know of someone it has harmed? Are we giving away too much? What can we do to minimize its effect? Do you really read the Privacy policies of every App you use?

About the Author

Jim Canfield

My interest in computers was a natural transition from all things electronics. I was hooked after building my first Heathkit computer around 1976, which evolved into a TSR80 and a long list of Windows computers. My first full blown program was a graphics program which started my career path in graphic design and IT work for 40 years. I now run a small computer repair and service company focused on helping veterans and retirees in our area with computer and software training classes.

8 Comments

  1. Gee Jim, I am glad to see you have also noticed this “this site uses cookies” appearing more often on sites. As a general rule, when I want to be anonymous, I browse using a VPN. Otherwise, I purge new cookies every lew days. Only retain the cookies for the safe sites I need to visit. I have a list so it is easy to spot new entries. The idea of a site knowing I have visited them before and saying it is there to make my visit easier, is BS. I go so far as to purge all internet traces each time my browser closes on one computer, and run PrivaZer twice a month to purge any left over traces.

    I dislike companies making money on my searches without any reward. Am constantly reminded that blocking ads will stop a free internet, and we will all have to pay. But, we are already paying, and totally unaware of the cost.

    Also firmly believe, that only a small handful of people take their privacy seriously, or go to the extremes I mentioned, Mindblower!

    • Mindblower, I have always whitelisted sites that I plan to support and accept cookies. I also clear all other cookies after every surfing event. I do, however, believe the internet will have a major hiccup when all ads are blocked. I just don’t see how small informative sites can exist without some income, and if it not from generous donations, which I don’t see happening, it has to be from something like cookies or ads. There are several sites like DCT that I regularly visit and gladly accept cookies, ads and in some cases give tokens. With you being a regular on DCT I am sure you understand. I know that a lot of people don’t come close to the privacy steps you keep, that is why sites like this exist to help them learn.

      • Jim,
        Could you please provide me a link to any DCT article(s) about whitelisting sites to allow cookies and overall cookie management? Would greatly appreciate it.

        • Kevin, most of what we have on DCT about whitelisting cookies are comments from staff and subscribers. I can give you a list of the programs I have used and are familiar with.
          Cookiebro – Cookie Manager **** Works with Firefox –
          I really like this one because it allows you to edit your existing list of cookies, you may white or blacklist any of your existing cookies by accepting the domain or purge them all.
          Cookie AutoDelete ****
          Great features, You can enable automatic cleaning and put a delay of cleaning. Clear cookies after every domain change, Whitelist, Graylist and blacklist domains.
          Vanilla Cookie ***
          Similar to the above programs with just a fewer options.
          Edit This Cookie – For Edge ***
          I am not sure if this is available for regular Microsoft users right now. I am using it in my version of Edge which is an Insider’s build. If it is not already in your list of extensions for your version, it will be soon.
          These are the only cookie managers I use, each will allow you to accept cookies from a domain and block cookies from others or delete them after your session ends.
          Hope this helps.

  2. Sorry for the delay, as I hoped there would be more feedback from the membership.

    Richard: Thank you for that cookie program. Does who it says. See you have several gems in your collection. Would be an interesting read if you were inclined to share them.

    Jim: Yes I do have certain sites whitelisted. And as mentioned, I belong to a miniscule group of people who go to extreme measures and block almost everything. Believe my tactics do no harm to these visited sites.

    PS I also donate financially to certain sites so they remain open and assist others, Mindblower!

    • Richard, you are certainly not alone in your feelings. I think the majority of people feel that way. I just don’t know if we are correct. First of all, let me apologize for the length of this reply and to state, I do not support them making money from me and leaving me out of the equation and in the dark. For me it is more about the sneaky way they do it, not that they do it.

      I look at it this way. every time I watch a football game TV they are making money from me. Their income is based on how many of us are watching. But they are giving me the game, and making money from advertisers. I could purchase a Pay per view and receive no advertisements but they are still making money from me. That is exactly what browsers and search engines are doing, right? The problem is we don’t know. In the TV world, there are highly paid athletes they must compensate and they charge advertisers to get that money back and make a profit. I’m kind of OK with that. We can check out their income and expenses to determine their true profit. But where is the money going that the silicon big guys are earning. If they are making an insane amount of money and we are left out, I agree with you 100%. If the money they make is barely covering their costs then I am fine with that. The problem is, there is no easy way to check. TV makes money from millions of users watching ads. Browsers and Search Engines make money from Billions and Billions of views, clicks, redirection, and who knows what else. I need transparency on how much they are actually making from me before I can state an honest answer. If over a year’s time they are making $5.00 do we really need to worry. The fact that it is 5 times 10 billion might make them rich but getting back a percentage of my $5 would not help me. Thanks for your input. It is appreciated.

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