Just like gold, data has been officially the essential currency that companies mine. At the cost of our personal information, technology progresses. But then, we’re left to fend for ourselves. So how do we know our data are safe and protected?
Google’s Product Manager for Privacy and Data Protection, Greg Fair, stated that in 2020, the searches for ‘online privacy’ grew by more than 50 percent. At the same time, 81 percent of consumers are now concerned about their data.
This is why Google launched a privacy comic book as part of its commitment to educate the public about how the company protects people’s data. But more than that, I recently learned Google’s responsible data practices and their advanced security technology through a roundtable with fellow journalists from the Asia-Pacific region.
So, let’s talk about Google’s transparency on what data is collected, how it is used, and how we can stay in control.
Ever wonder how you can navigate your short-distance travels easily by knowing which roads to skip due to traffic congestion? That’s all because Google Maps collect anonymous data to generate information that helps other users understand what’s going on around them.
This set of anonymized user data are personalized and helps improve products. For instance, some places get relevant information whenever a user provides personalized details about a certain restaurant.
While it’s great to be able to contribute to any improvement of a product, Google reminds people that they’re still in control. You can still turn off your location history, or have it automatically deleted after three or 18 months.
Google Assistant, while looking like someone who spies on you, actually doesn’t save data even in standby mode. It only turns on when you command it with “Hey Google” or “OK Google”.
You can even ask it with “What data does Google collect?” or ask it to do something to protect your privacy such as “Delete what I just said” or “That wasn’t for you” — which results in having your most recent activity deleted. For further protection, you can view or delete data collected through My Activity.
How about ads?
Meanwhile, Google Search shows personalized ads that are only related to your Search query. Google doesn’t use private data such as email content, photos, document, or even sensitive information.
More importantly, ads are marked with labels like “ad” or “sponsored”, and only show up when there are useful ads related to the query.
A lot of us ask about seeing ads from our previous searches or topics we had in our conversations with friends — online and offline. So, is Google spying? Not really. According to Google, they’re not the only platform that utilizes data. Ads shown to you could’ve been the doing of other platforms that collects data. Plus, your cookies are partly to blame.
So, is our data safe and secure?
It’s safe to say that Google has an advanced security technology that protects users’ data, which automatically blocks a wide range of security threats such as government-backed attacks that could possibly be an attempt to obtain personal information.
Still, users have to take their part regarding responsible data practice. We can’t rely on the companies to do all the protection, we have to be cautious and secure our data as well, especially stuff that’s in our control.
Twitter denies severity of hack involving 200M accounts
No passwords compromised, they say
Twitter’s year started off with a bang it did not want. A cybersecurity report revealed that over 200 million Twitter accounts were compromised in a comprehensive leak that revealed their real name and email addresses. After some investigation, Twitter has responded to the leak and claims that things aren’t as severe as the initial report claims.
In an official Twitter Support post, the company investigated the database of accounts involved in the leak. In particular, the team cross-referenced the database with a previously known database originating from July and November 2022.
We were recently made aware of reports that Twitter user data was being sold online. After a comprehensive investigation, we found no evidence that this data originated from the exploitation of our systems. Read more here: https://t.co/4LnVG6gzae
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) January 11, 2023
Though Twitter admits that the July leak came from a known vulnerability, the company did not find any correlation between July’s leak and both databases from November and January. Neither of the two latest databases are from new vulnerabilities.
Additionally, Twitter has reported that the database does not include any compromising information. None of the information contains passwords or anything that can lead to a compromised password. In fact, the company claims that the information likely came from other sources with information already available publicly.
However, the company is still continuing its investigation to determine the security of its users.
On the flip side, Alon Gal, who revealed the latest database, says that the database is one of the largest he’s ever seen. The cybersecurity expert also warns users of the potential harm caused by the database.
Still, in an age when cybersecurity takes precedence, there’s no harm in exercising more security measures for your accounts online. In the same report, Twitter recommends two-factor authentication to maximize security.
Over 200 million Twitter accounts involved in hacked database
From an old hack
Twitter just can’t catch a break. After Elon Musk purchased the company, the platform has suffered a litany of problems over the past few months including controversial changes and malicious attacks. Now, a new security report has advised users that over 200 million Twitter accounts have had their email addresses leaked to hackers.
According to a LinkedIn post from Alon Gal, co-founder of cybersecurity firm Hudson Rock, a database of hacked accounts contained 235 million users and exposed their real names and email addresses. Gal states that this is “one of the most significant leaks [he’s] seen.”
Given how many active accounts there are on Twitter, 235 million accounts is not an insignificant figure. The database can potentially open a huge chunk of users, including notable personalities and celebrities, to hacks, scams, and doxing.
More concerning, the database isn’t a fresh hack. According to Bleeping Computer, the set is part of a hack that was exposed last year. At the time, only 5.4 million accounts were reported. Twitter previously claimed that the vulnerability which caused the hack has been patched. Further, the platform reported that no one was affected by the hack.
To check if you were affected, breach notification site HaveIBeenPwned.com can now check the vast database for your information. If you’re part of the database, be careful online and watch out for any potential attacks on your accounts.
A new iMessage feature alerts you of any government spies
Anyone can use it
Do you have an irrational fear of government hackers spying on your text messages? If you do, Apple has a new feature to help alleviate your phobia. Starting today, users can opt into the new iMessage Contact Key Verification feature, a security measure designed to prevent any unwanted snooping on your messages.
If it sounds too specific, it’s because Apple designed the feature for those who face “extraordinary digital threats,” like journalists and politicians. Naturally, this subset of the population can benefit from keeping their conversations away from snoopers (which includes, according to Apple, state-sponsored attackers). However, there’s no denying that the feature is also a boon to users who want an extra layer of protection for their messaging needs.
To use the feature, both the sender and the receiver need to have the option turned on while using their device. On a more basic level, the device will alert both users if an unexpected party suddenly crashes and enters the encrypted conversation. A more advanced level even allows iMessage users to compare verification codes, ensuring that both parties are indeed talking to whomever they intend to talk to.
While most users might not find a lot of use for an exorbitant amount of protection against hackers, it’s a step in the right direction for total message encryption. Despite some significant hiccups, Apple remains focused on bringing encryption to its users.
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