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The Not-So-Hidden Costs of Free Apps

Facebook is free. You can get a free Starbucks app that gives you savings. You can use any number of free navigation apps, such as Waze or Google Maps. They may be free of fees, but they have costs, but they have costs, and that may be at the practical heart of privacy.

Our purpose here is not to get into the specifics of how you can delete apps like Facebook from your computers and devices. You can find a lot of those steps within the apps themselves. Nor is our purpose here about whether you should delete those apps. Facebook continues to come under fire – and to fire back – as the news changes every day.

In our opinion, the issue of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, which brought a lot of this discussion to a head, happened in 2015. Facebook shared data with Cambridge Analytica under an agreement, but when the agreement was terminated, the data wasn’t deleted. In some ways, we are now looking at several issues, so let’s separate them. I did download all of my personal information that Facebook has about me, and some of it was scary. The scariest part was that they have all of my contact information, and I could see the names of all the people who may have requested to “friend” me but did not accept.

In a way, all of the info didn’t surprise me, and we should all note that Google probably has more information about all of us than Facebook. Like it or not, our likes and dislikes, which are all reflected in what we say on Facebook and in Google product reviews, to name a few, plus all the searches we do and websites we visit all become valuable information for advertisers who want to focus on those who are most likely to buy a product. John Wannamaker, the Philadelphia-based department store owner, said some 150 years ago that he knew only half his advertising dollars were working; he just didn’t know which half. Today’s analytics help businesses and political campaigns make their dollars work more efficiently.

That’s where “free” comes in. We like free apps, free things and being free to express opinions. But it has a cost: whatever level of privacy you are willing to give up. Yes, those “terms and conditions” and “privacy statements” are long and difficult to read, but we all know the drill. In return for being able to use their apps and be eligible for certain perks, we give them the ability to track our locations and share information with their business partners. If anything, the Facebook fiasco has raised our awareness of what goes on behind the scenes, and we may be less willing to give everyone unlimited access to our preferences and whereabouts when given the opportunity.

Another related issue is the Internet of Things, or IoT. All the “smart” home systems, including the smart speakers from Amazon, Google and Apple, collect data based on the info you request, the songs you play and even the merchandise you buy using their systems. Two things we don’t know are: 1.) Do they collect information even when you haven’t activated them? 2.) Who has access to the information they collect?

Moving forward, I am not going to drop out of Facebook. But we can all download the info Facebook has collected on us and look at the apps and advertisers we are tied into through Facebook. We can delete those we don’t want.

Looking at all the data collected about us and figuring out what to delete or hide can be a daunting task, but we can help. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to make an appointment to review whatever information you can collect from the apps you use. We’ll do the best we can to find that happy medium between convenience and security. But even if you decide to drop off the internet and just pay cash for bills and goods and services, your privacy still cannot be ensured.