“This is Not the Service You’re Looking For!”

The Jedi master’s famous words on Tattooine might not be what you normally encounter when looking for a new online fax service, web host, or social media platform. But doing a bit of research on the service you’re signing up for and it’s privacy policies, you might be surprised how the idea of free services without a catch is often just like a Jedi mind trick!

In the computer world there is a balance between making a service easy to use, keeping it secure, making it low cost (or free) and keeping it private. Also, some artificial intelligence can make your life more convenient… give Apple’s Siri access to your contacts, email, and calendar, and she’ll automatically remind you about upcoming hotel reservations or dinner plans. Apple generally makes it a “take it or leave it“ scenario and if you say no, it leaves you alone. Windows on the other hand will make it seem like there isn’t any other way to set up your computer except using a Microsoft account, and if you don’t understand their setup screens makes you believe your computer won’t function properly without turning all of their data mining services on. While this does enable some convenience, the question then becomes how much of your digital life (and therefore information about your physical one) are you willing to give to a company or service?

The first step is remembering that if something is free, you are the product. Your information will be sold to data collection companies called aggregators. They will then package this into marketing lists and resell it on average 22 times (according to a study by the not for profit Mozilla Corp.). Paid services tend to be more conservative with their privacy policies, and more transparent with allowing you to opt out of information sharing, but it comes at a financial cost. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use services that are free; but take a quick look at their privacy policy to make sure you can request they delete your data if you no longer use the service, and look out for any checkboxes or options to opt out of marketing lists or sharing during signup.

The next step is consolidation. Does a platform or service you already have access to contain the functionality you need? Do you already have an existing account with the service you’re trying to use, that perhaps you just need to gain access to from a former employee? Do you have accounts with services you no longer need and can request they be deleted?

Finally, look for alternatives! Sites like alternativeto.net are great resources to help you explore the best fit for your specific need, and help save you time by listing pros and cons others have suggested up front.

In conclusion, many services and companies no longer consider privacy a fundamental right, instead choosing to sell your personal data for profit. taking a few minutes to review new services you’re signing up for and their privacy policies, delete accounts you no longer use or more fully utilize services you have, and look for more privacy respecting alternatives will help defend privacy as a right and make the data mining industry less profitable. And if a company does not respect your privacy, remember that all you have to do is wave three fingers and say “Move along!”

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