Do the ‘Big Four’ Tech Firms Respect Data Privacy?
Many of you are familiar with, or at least heard about, the virtual meeting of the House Judiciary Committee hearings on Antitrust Law in March of 2020 with CEOs Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Tim Cook (Apple), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), and Sundar Pichai (Google). These CEOs and their companies are under intense scrutiny for unlawful business practices related to anti-trust law, including bad-faith use of their customers’ data to increase their own revenue. While this hearing was fraught with legal jargon and some political posturing, it shone a new light on the power these corporate titans hold over American citizens and businesses. Many of the committee’s probing questions (political theater aside) were based factual evidence and eyewitness statements. The questions and the CEOs’ frequently evasive answers left viewers needing to ponder the extent to which these companies have control over our sensitive personal data online.
If you watched the hearing, you might have heard the opening statements from the general counsel and witnesses. At the start of the hearing, a litany of concerns is expressed. Among those concerns was the abuse of personal data. On this topic, Representative David Cicilline of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust said:
“Each platform is a bottleneck for a key channel of distribution. Whether [or not] they control access to information to a marketplace, these platforms have the incentive and ability to exploit this power. They can charge exorbitant fees, impose impressive contracts, and extract valuable data from the people and businesses that rely on them. Several of those firms also harvest and abuse people’s data to sell ads from everything to new books and dangerous so-called miracle cures.”
In May 2022, the Attorney General of Washington D.C., Karl Racine, filed a lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg for his relation to the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2016 (explained in the 2019 Netflix documentary we recommend you watch, The Great Hack), saying “This unprecedented security breach exposed tens of millions of Americans’ personal information, and Mr. Zuckerberg’s policies enabled a multi-year effort to mislead users about the extent of Facebook’s wrongful conduct,” Racine said in a press release announcing the new lawsuit. “This lawsuit is not only warranted, but necessary, and sends a message that corporate leaders, including CEOs, will be held accountable for their actions.”
Data Privacy Concerns
Whether or not organizations such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google use illegal or immoral practices over the internet, the mere fact that they have the power to do so is eye-opening and cause for concern. In our ever-evolving digital world, data privacy and general privacy online are more and more critical. Unfortunately, privacy laws in America are not enough to protect those of us that are unfamiliar with our nation’s huge digital landscape.
Presence offers an all-in-one solution that acts as your online eyes and ears to help protect you from data hoarders, criminals, and foreign intelligence services that would treat your personal information as a revenue source or asset in psychological warfare operations. (A documentary we recommend is the two-part Agents of Chaos from HBO, where Part 1 describes how social media and network vulnerabilities can be leveraged in psychological warfare; trailers and discussion available at YouTube.) Our goal is to provide you with inexpensive tools and the free knowledge in these blogs (with many external resources) to secure a private online experience. The Presence team and advisors believe that data privacy is a fundamental human right. When organizations like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple have the power to use this data to terrible effect, we believe that, in our current national and global situation, people must take defensive measures to protect their right to privacy!
Here are some practices for protecting your private information from data hoarding companies.
- Limit the use of personally identifiable information (PII) to fill out online forms or engage with website content. (For example, some organizations request your social security number even when they have no valid use for it, and you can challenge them on their need for it.) Many large companies treat visitors and users as a commodity, selling and trading your data as if you were a product.
- You can use the Presence application to filter out sites that sell your information.
- Set aside time to audit your digital footprint. Check social accounts, posts, and sites that engage in commercial activity for any unnecessary personal information that may compromise your privacy or security.
- Remove personal information immediately.
- Presence can actively track and consolidate your entire digital footprint. The tool then provides you with best practices and recommendations on how to manage your data across the internet.
- When possible, use browsers that do not store or collect data, such as Mozilla’s Firefox or Brave and search engines such as DuckDuckGo or Qwant.
- Presence continually provides you with recommendations on the best tools available on the market that put privacy first.
Hungry for more knowledge? Check out these ten tips for privacy protection online, smartphone privacy, and password security, compiled by information security experts and data privacy advocates. While you’re at it, take a look at some of the things Presence can do for you from a security and privacy standpoint. With proper information and tools, we can protect ourselves from abuses by big tech companies and drive the movement for stronger online privacy.
If you can, watch these fascinating, highly educational documentaries: from Netflix, The Great Hack and The Social Dilemma; from HBO, Agents of Chaos.
Join the movement #privacyfirst