Have you ever taken a quiz to find out what kind of potato you are, or what state your spirit connects with? You may not realize, it but when you take those quizzes—or when you download an app to your phone—you opt in to share your data. This relates directly to all the news Facebook has been making lately, and is how Mark Zuckerburg landed a starring role at a congressional hearing.
Don't use Facebook? There are still many different ways your data may be gathered and used, from functional reasons to marketing purposes. Renola Swoboda helps us sort through a topic important to your security and privacy, and that of your students.
Whenever you download an app from iTunes or the Play store, that app needs access to different types of data on your phone in order for it to work. For example, if you want to use Messenger or What's App to communicate with someone, the app needs access to the technology that's already a part of your phone in order to make it work. If it can't access your microphone, the next time you use it to make a call, your listener won't hear you. If you'd like to send a picture SMS, it needs your camera to complete the function. Apps come with capability to do things, but the technology in your phone is the missing part of the puzzle that makes the app work. Apps need both functional data and access to your content in order for the app to work properly.
TIP: For any apps you download, make sure they're from a trusted source, and that you understand the permissions you're giving the program. You should see these permissions each time you download an app. If you don't see that, you'll want to do some more research on the app before deciding whether to add it to your device.
Social Media Handoffs
In a social media platform like Facebook, you'll come across every sort of quiz possible to test your knowledge of, say, '80s trivia—or to see what your future children may look like. The sponsors of these quizzes are web-based apps that need access to your data in order to provide you with a result or answer. They collect your data to build their database for marketing, cookies, tracking their campaigns, or other purposes. But when you do the quiz, they need you to log in using your email, or you can use your social media login if you're already logged in. Many people use their social media login because it's fast and easy.
In doing so, you give the app access to your friends list, birthday, or whatever information is on your public–facing wall for that social media platform. It's important to opt out or configure your settings if you're not comfortable with sharing this data. Some of these apps or quizzes may need to be able send messages on your behalf, for example. It's important to make sure you look closely and understand what these permissions mean. Once you grant permission, if you don't like the way the app is working, you can get rid of them. (We'll explain how later.)
Free and Paid Surveys
Sometimes you'll encounter pop-ups that ask for your opinion or insight. Your participation may be voluntary or paid. You don't even need to be on a social media site once you're logged in—that's all it takes for them to access your media and whatever additional data you give them during the survey. In either case, pay close attention to how the survey will use your data. You should be able to decide in clear terms in the beginning whether you want to be part of this data mining or not. (Of course, they won't call it that; it will be an opportunity to win something or a chance to provide feedback.)
Deleting Your Data
If there's an app on your phone or computer, or attached to your social media account, that starts acting in a strange way (for example, sending an email to your Facebook contacts that you didn't send), you can delete the app and request the app owner to delete your data. The steps differ from app to app, but in light of recent outrage over the abuse of data, platforms like Facebook are making it easier to review your apps and delete your data. If you haven't in a while, there's no time like the present to check out the security settings you have indicated on the apps you frequent. It's important for you to see how the world sees you, and how your data is being used.
These are just a few common ways your data can be accessed; there are countless others. When you're encouraged to download a new app, consider ratings, look at the security settings, and do a little more research if you're not familiar with what it is and why it's asking for access to certain data. Before you take some of the outlandish quizzes that come up in your news feed, consider whether you want a company to have access to your public-facing information. Always use caution with surveys—especially those that pop up unexpectedly—and learn more about what they're using the information for before you share anything with them. It may feel like you're being a bit cynical, but it's always wise to consider why you're being asked for something before you share information about yourself.