Before you Download that App...

Applications for our smart phones and tablets and others are completely changing the way we live our lives. We've been tossed into a paradigm shift of eEverything and we love it.

I am guilty of finding it all a little suspect. I recently attended a speaker series that discussed the idea that If you're not paying for the product, you are the product. I'm borderline paranoid about the way big data is using us and the ways we are being exposed inherent to our use of social media. We don't share info on HappyHudsonValley.com, and there's a good reason for that.

I've been known to message friends cautioning them to post with privacy in mind.  It's invasive on a massive scale. Collectively, some writers are taking a stand. Now that all of that information is stored on your device which wirelessly connects to those intangible cloud services and is subject to collection by entities like the NSA there isn't much that isn't known about you if you're sharing stuff with anyone through your handheld device. A debate over constitutional rights, specifically the fourth amendment, is happening. The truth is, we just happen to be standing here at this pivotal moment of internet history. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. Some big names in media are rumored to be constructing an international bill of digital rights calling it a stand for democracy across the aisle.

I recently attended the "Why Privacy Matters" conference at Bard College inside the Hannah Arendt center for politics and humanities. Edward Snowden was streamed in from Russia to give the keynote. Regardless of how you might feel about what he did, and believe me, it was pulled apart from all sides at this event, the fact is, a ripple effect of knowing and having a say has followed because he did it.

Before you download that app, remember that privacy matters.

A few weeks ago, I was turned onto WAZE by a celebrity endorsement. It's a free navigation app that helps to share traffic reports, hazards on the road and supposedly cheap gas. Sounds great, no? The thing is, I never download an app without visiting the privacy policy. I don't think many people do this. But when you're giving someone permission to know exactly where you are all the time, it pays to check and see what else they want to know about you. If you use Waze you're agreeing to share:

  • Your favorite/frequent destinations
  • chat messages
  • search inquiries
  • calendar info
  • all phone numbers stored on your device
  • info shared via social media

And this is true of any device you sign in with using the user name you created for Waze.

Now let's talk about why they want all of that. They will send you advertisements for local stores you are nearby to. A little invasive, but It makes sense. Then they go on talking about how this will help with your user experience including updates and support. If you keep scrolling, it goes from a place of common sense to something else. Naturally they do not accept any liability for use of their app. Then, re: social media integration, "certain information which you have defined as private on your third party social network accounts may become public to other Waze users." That includes your friends list, your email, phone number and photo potentially.

And though Waze does not sell, rent or lease your personal info without consent, they can collect, hold and manage your personal info through cloud-based and other services of a third party for 'reasonable business purposes.' If that doesn't resonate with you, lastly, Waze may also share personal info with companies connected or affiliated such as subsidiaries, sister-companies and parent companies.

This is why free apps get bought up for obscene amounts of money. Am I saying anything you don't know? Probably not. But every time you post to facebook, are you comfortable agreeing that whoever is behind the invisible wall of the apps on your phone may be able to view everything you say and do regardless of your privacy settings?

Furthermore, while the privacy policy that you start with may seem pretty cut and dry, the ending clause is where you could lose out without really knowing it. They write, "You agree to be bound by any of the changes made in the terms of this privacy policy." Meaning, when they occasionally update after let's say 5 million people are on board, they can update terms and unless you log in to read about it, you might not know what you've automatically agreed to.

I'm not saying you need a lawyer to participate in modern life via your cell phone. What I'm saying is, we need to be conscious consumers. And, while I'm the first to raise my hand and say I have nothing to hide, that is absolutely not the point. You pay a pretty penny for that phone, and the bill that comes each month. So, why is our privacy for sale?

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