Application developers use online information to sell personal data for other purposes that were not initially intended for
The rise in Internet use, especially in Africa, poses more risk of data mining through breaches and infringement of users digital rights. This is according Mozilla’s Policy Advisor in Africa, Alice Munyua, who was in the country last week to participate in the 7th Africa Domain Name Systems Forum that was held in Gaborone.
“Mozilla aims to bring forth the discussion that when it comes to privacy, default settings matter. Safety and security for users on the Internet should be paramount and (are) not to be treated as an option. All users must enjoy and discover the benefits of the Internet without their digital-footprints being tracked,” Munyua warned.
The appeal behind the billion downloads of mobile apps lies in the diversity of their offerings because there is an app for everything one can think of nowadays. In turn, this means that thousands of companies are minting billions of dollars off users’ online activities through harvesting and selling of private data simply because they have been allowed by default.
Munyua explained in an interview that privacy and security settings exist for a reason but they are not always secure. Once information is posted, it remains posted online and users need to think twice before posting content they wouldn’t want to be seen in the future. Recent research found that 70% of job recruiters rejected candidates based on information they found online. The research also found out that recruiters respond to a strong, positive personal brand online. It is therefore encouraged for one to show their smarts, thoughtfulness on their online posts.
“A good joke I once saw is that Facebook is like walking on one of the highways in Gaborone and shouting to everyone about who you are, your hobbies, what and how you cooked last night, where you ate, when you are travelling, when you are having a baby, all your babies’ pictures to complete strangers. That is what we do with our private information on the information highway,” she pointed out.
When people use a device to connect to the Internet, they automatically have a digital ID, facing the risks of application developers using the information to sell personal data for other purposes that were not initially intended. For example, the famous DNA tests apps used to find one’s heritage are now being used for medical research. In places like Kenya, an application called MDawa shares data with finance institutions. Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal are another example of data being collected by apps and later used for other purposes like politics.
Munyua further explained that there are several ways one can minimize one’s online footprint by removing oneself from data collection sites, websites and outdated search results. “Avoid sharing too much sensitive information online. In Europe, General Data Protection Regulation has provisions for the right to erasure and right to be forgotten,” she said. “The right to erasure or right to be forgotten grants data subjects a possibility to have their personal data deleted if they don’t want them processed any more and when there is no legitimate reason for a data controller to keep it.”