Is Big Brother watching you?


More and more people are connected ever more frequently with the internet. We are constantly online to talk to each other, exchange photos and experiences, buy stuff, watch our favourite series, etc. But do we think sufficiently about the information we reveal about ourselves? Are we sufficiently aware how we use the internet and the impact it has on our privacy?

Everything is monitored 

“Everything people do on the internet can be monitored. All sorts of parties construct a profile of internet users with this information: who they are, where they are, what they do, with whom, what they seek, what their interests are, what they buy, etc. Such parties analyse these profiles, make assumptions about what the internet users could also find interesting, add new information, which they buy from other parties, and then re-sell profiles. Why? To earn money and to make personalized offers,” warns the foundation, which wants to raise more awareness about privacy with a campaign entitled “You are sharing more than you know, so think about your on-line privacy.” 

Always connected

We are constantly connecting more devices with the internet. The Internet of Things (IoT) has become reality. Research shows that by 2020, no fewer than 10 to 20 billion devices are going to be connected with the internet. 

The advantages of the IoT speak for themselves. Just think of driving in an unknown city: the GPS uses up-to-date traffic information to lead you to a parking facility and checks the availability of places; once there, you buy your ticket with your mobile phone and validate it with the app of the parking company. Back home, you program your lighting, heating, and shutters with an app on the tablet. You use the same tablet to watch your favourite series on your smart TV, while you wait for the meal that you have ordered online and check quickly on your watch or another wearable how many steps you have taken today and whether you are healthier than yesterday…

Nice and convenient… But all these connected devices create extra possibilities for hackers and cyber criminals too. One year ago, researchers at Microsoft and the University of Michigan found countless security ‘holes’ in Samsung’s smart home platform. The warning in the privacy policy for their smart TV not to talk sensitive subjects in the vicinity of the device was evidently not superfluous. Samsung has been reprimanded in the meantime, but the example illustrates the problem with the IoT quite well. 

Access to your private life

Apart from the security issues, there are also privacy problems linked to the IoT. It generates an immense volume of data that are drifting somewhere in cyberspace. You have most likely accepted terms and conditions for every device at some point. But have you actually read them? With every device, you give its manufacturer access to a greater or lesser extent to your home and a part of your private life.

Furthermore, manufacturers also ensure that these various devices that you use can be interconnected and exchange data with each other and with the manufacturers. Combined, often with other sources such as e.g. your social media profiles, such data can yield valuable personal information about you – so valuable that people are prepared to pay for it.

You may have unwittingly given permission to the manufacturer of your device to pass your data on to third parties. Just imagine that your new insurer has data on your driving behaviour through your connected car and fixes the insurance premium for it accordingly. Or that you are refused a life insurance policy on account of data from your fitness tracker…