Consumer Threat Notices

Taking Privacy to Extremes: What Consumers Need to Know

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By on Feb 19, 2013

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

Personal privacy: It’s a tenant of American citizenship, but also the source of a long-held debate over the balance between an individual liberty and national security. Where should governments draw the line, and what do consumers need to know about balancing their own privacy with security?

Take, for example, Silent Text, one of a few new encryption apps built to allow anyone to “send files securely from a smartphone or tablet at the touch of a button.” For context, encryption is a key part of what most security company does for its users. It’s the process of scrambling information, like your email messages, in such a way that eavesdroppers or hackers cannot read it.

At first glance, this technology sounds extremely appealing – especially for those, like wartime journalists, who work in sensitive or high-surveillance environments. Still, there’s a downside, which delves into the exact same debate that Benjamin Franklin wrote about in 1775: Just because the app was made with good intentions in mind does not mean that it will always be used responsibly.

Even Silent Text’s founders have let on that, in theory, the app could be used to aid criminals. This risk is an inevitable consequence of having the technology and freedom to manage our desire to share, shred, post, delete, store, and access information online with a privacy level of our choosing (including extreme secrecy), which is why so many believe encryption apps like Silent Text will spark controversy within the US government. For example, what happens when law enforcement officials need to gather forensics evidence in a high-profile court case?

Privacy vs. Security: Determining Your Threshold

What I want all of our readers to understand is that privacy is a spectrum, and it’s best characterized as the fair and authorized use of personal information (making sure that Facebook doesn’t share your information with unauthorized ad agencies, for example). This is different from secrecy, which is a personal choice to fall on the extreme end of the privacy spectrum. Privacy does not equal secrecy, but privacy may demand secrecy for certain information in certain contexts.

What users at home need to do before using an extreme privacy app like Silent Text is to determine where they lie along this spectrum – their own privacy threshold. In the end, many of us will choose not to use this type of encryption technology simply because of its security implications. Still, there are many ways you can (and should) regularly monitor and manage your online privacy.

  1. Keep Personal Information Personal – According to a recent McAfee report, 28% of people regret sending personal information (such as revealing photos or bank account information) later, and 10% of those people have been threated by an ex saying that they would expose that information online. Before you share, think twice about the recipient and whether you really need to share that information at all.
  2. Change Up Your Passwords – Using a unique, complicated password is one of the best things you can do to manage your privacy online. This includes different passwords for your smartphone, your bank account, each one of your social networks, and every work-related account you have. For most of us, this means employing the help of a password manager like McAfee SafeKey, which is included in your McAfee All Access subscription.
  3. Monitor Social Media – Consider everything you say and do on social media as public by default, and make use of social networks’ native privacy settings to hide information you’d rather not have public. For example, Facebook allows you to customize sharing options so that only a specific group of friends can see your content, and Twitter profiles can be made private and viewable only to those you follow.
  4. Keep Tabs on Your Apps – Apps, especially on mobile devices, can present a variety of privacy pitfalls, particularly when you sign in through another account like Twitter, Facebook, or Google. To avoid opening up your information to third party apps or allowing suspicious apps to collect information about you that they have no need to know, regularly monitor app privacy settings for unwanted access or remove apps that collect too much personal information. McAfee All Access with McAfee Mobile Security also allows users to easily monitor the privacy access levels of mobile apps, providing automatic reviews and reports while scanning for malicious content.

 

Will you try out Silent Text, or have you already used an encryption app to send or receive private messages? Let us know on Facebook or on Twitter with @McAfeeConsumer.

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