It’s 2018 and people are utilizing tech more than ever in their daily lives. Need to get somewhere but don’t have a car? Just open a ride-hailing app and request a ride. Need groceries? Amazon and Whole Foods will now do your shopping for you. Need to pay a friend? You can use Venmo. There’s even an app that will let you make payments to a vending machine–washers and dryers too–without quarters. Tech gives us more ways to complete our routine tasks with more convenience. Even engaging with large groups of people takes one click on social media. But there’s something we give in return for all this. We give tech companies our personal information and information about how we use their services. Data. It’s big now.
Those cute animal videos you watched, the songs you listened to, the restaurants you checked into, the rides you took–these actions are collected by tech companies to create structured information. With more people using social media and apps, there’s more data for companies to collect–and to protect. To ease users’ minds regarding possible misuse of personal information, tech companies provide literature called privacy notices, most of which probably goes unread when people sign up for online accounts. Even though companies have policies set in place to ensure user information is not abused, problems still occur.
Recent days have been dominated by the story of Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm that collected the private information of more than 50 million Facebook users. In 2014, Uber found itself under media scrutiny when employees were accused of using “God View” to spy on the whereabouts of people using the app. This February, an anonymous Lyft employee used the Blind app to blow the whistle on data abuse at the company: “I’ve seen people look their exes up, check to see if their significant other actually went where they said, and stalk attractive people they’ve met in Lyft lines. . . . I’ve also seen employees that look up the ride ratings of execs at other companies and even Lyft itself.
After the Lyft scandal broke, the Blind team started wondering how many of its other users had witnessed data being mishandled in their workplaces. In March, Blind sent out a survey and asked. Just over 1,200 people responded and a comforting 89 percent said they had not witnessed user information being abused.
On the flip side, only 11 percent of surveyed Blind users claimed they witnessed misuse of data. Still, this number can be alarming. Because today’s online tools amass so much information, violations at just one company can affect the lives of thousands of users. Companies we entrust our information to must continually improve protection policies and oversee those employees who have access to sensitive data. Meanwhile, users will have to accept the reality that once handed over, their information will not be 100 percent safe. Is this the price we pay when we let technology into our lives? Perhaps.