Privacy matters again, so you'd better prepare

Data breaches and mobile tracking have raised alarms; companies need to have a handle on user privacy or risk unwanted attention

After two decades of lingering in near obscurity, privacy issues are finally returning to the computer security big table. This shift comes thanks to high-profile cases concerning mobile devices tracking users, massive data breaches, and countless other instances of data being repurposed in ways users never intended. Companies need to be careful now of how they handle user privacy, lest they come under attack not just from hackers but also the media, the law, and the public.

To recap some of the recent news concerning user privacy: Users, politicians, pundits, and the like were aghast to learn that mobile phones running iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile have been tracking users or storing user location information. If your smartphone vendor doesn't do it, your app vendor could.

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Additionally, there are the recent instances of massive data heists from Epsilon and Sony, which likely resulted in tens of millions of individual records being stolen. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Who among us hasn't received multiple "Your records may have been stolen" letters each year for the past few years? Not long ago, I calculated that one of every four Americans in the United States had their personal identity information stolen in one year alone. Exactly how much worse does it have to get before we, as a society, expect better safeguarding of our personal and financial data?

What's more, barely a week goes by that Facebook or Google isn't in the headlines (and being questioned by Congress) for some possible privacy invasion. Give your email address to your favorite newsletter and it'll probably result in a flood of spam from sources you'd rather didn't have your contact info.

Even away from your computer or mobile device, your privacy is in jeopardy. For example. cameras are everywhere. My hometown has many red light cameras, which I'm OK with because they make those intersections safer (usually). Further, they help me uphold my own safe driving tactics.

But it turns out that many of those cameras store the images of every car that enters the intersection, not just law breakers'. Law enforcement can request records based on license plate numbers and often end up with a pretty good idea of the path traveled by a suspect. If you have a wireless toll pass device, you already know your car's every move around a toll highway is being tracked and stored.

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