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“I believe data is the new oil,” says Hypponen. “And just like oil brought us both prosperity and problems, data will bring us prosperity and problems.”
Hypponen has long warned about how free services target their customers using a shocking amount of specificity. “Twitter knows if you’re expecting a new child in your family in the next six months,” he explains. “And as a Twitter advertiser, you can use this to target your ads accordingly. It’s quite clear that this information isn’t coming from your tweets or whom you are following on Twitter. It turns out this information is actually being bought by Twitter from large data warehousing companies. Twitter then connects this information to your account through your phone number.”
Snapchat, the world’s fastest growing social network, is now using offline data matched to users’ mobile IDs to offer its customers better targeting, according to AdWeek*.
And this potential privacy nightmare could get worse fast thanks to your toaster, Hypponen explains. "Eventually, any toaster you buy is going to be an IoT toaster, even if there’s no IoT features for the customer. It's still going to call home to the manufacturer,” he says. “And the reason this will happen is it's going to be so cheap to put in one chip to have it call home, that they're all going to do it, even if the benefits are very small. Because the benefits to the manufacturer are clear in the form of very useful analytics and possibly even data they could sell to a data warehousing company.”
The good news is users are becoming more security conscious, according to an F-Secure survey**. Owners of Mac or iOS devices were just as likely to say that their computer needs virus protection as those who use Windows or Android devices, a positive development because Apple users are more likely to make commercial transactions on their devices.
Hypponen advises users begin thinking about privacy whenever they join a “free” service or purchase an Internet-connected device. In addition, he advises special caution over Wi-Fi networks. “Use a good VPN to secure yourself while using Wi-Fi networks,” he says. “Without a VPN, it’s trivial for anyone else using the same Wi-Fi to see big parts of your traffic. Use a VPN on your laptop, on your phone and your tablet.”
To raise awareness of Data Privacy Day, Hypponen will be doing a Reddit AMA session on Friday January 27th at 2.00pm GMT.
**Source: The F-Secure Apple Myths Survey consisted of an online survey of 3,000 age, gender and income-representative respondents from 3 countries, 1000 respondents per country: United States, Germany and Sweden. Polling took place from December 9, 2016 through January 1, 2017.
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