How private is our private information?

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Data hacks aren’t something new in the news. Sony suffered a large scale breach of it’s security when millions of their Playstation customer details were obtained in a planned hack. Natwest has suffered numerous hacking issues on it’s online banking platform, and we even found out that the general public were having it’s data directly tapped by the American government. The vulnerability of our personal data to online hackers has become a rising concern. However with Snapchat now revealing that the data of 4.6 million customers has been obtained by hackers, this issue has been brought into mainstream concerns once again. With social media displaying  lax security, it poses the question; how private are our lives on the web?

What is most alarming about these information leaks is that it affected a wide range of services. Banking, gaming and social media are areas integral to many of our lives. We give our basic information to so many websites now. Our name, address and  date of birth no longer feel like private information at all. However the amount of deeply personal information we freely offer to the internet is alarming when it’s evident that even some of the most popular online services aren’t totally secure.

Until now there hasn’t been any devastatingly harmful leaks of data. The Snapchat hackers gathered phone numbers and the Playstation hackers managed to bag themselves a few million addresses, not ideal but still not enough to constitute a severe threat to customers privacy. However it doesn’t matter what the hackers actually got their hands on, it’s what they could have got their hands that is alarming.

The companies in question don’t just have our basic information, between them they have our bank details, financial records, personal pictures and videos. The threat of losing banking details is obvious. the rise in blackmail cases resulting from criminals obtaining incriminating pictures and videos highlights the devastation deeper and more harmful data hacks could cause. Although at the moment this data might be safe, it doesn’t escape the fact that it is out there. This recent Snapchat security breach only serves to remind us that droves of our private data is stored in places vulnerable to cyber criminals.

The direct threat to financial services is obvious, however these tend to be the sites that have the highest levels of security. That doesn’t mean they are flawless but this isn’t where the biggest threat lies. The biggest threat lies in social media. Our behaviour on social media platforms is something unique. We now freely share pictures of ourselves, pinpoint when we are in a certain places and even publicly display what would usually be private conversations between us and our friends for no clear incentive or reward. As Snapchat along with Twitter and Facebook have shown, it is now the norm to share our lives with the world without really questioning it. We no longer solely exist in the real world, but a version of each of us exists online.

Right now social media is where we live, an extension of our own everyday lives. Many people don’t see these social media platforms as a public forum at all. Some see it as a 21st century version of a private diary and this is exactly where the danger lies. Social media is public. Fact. We are lured in by talking to people we know and looking at pictures of them but doesn’t mean we are totally free from prying eyes. The Snapchat leaks only serve to emphasise that once our data is out there, it is constantly at risk from hackers. Once private information is placed online it ceases to be private at all, no matter how secure we believe it to be. As a large chunk of our lives are now lived online, the amount of private information we actually have is dwindling fast. Our information is never really safe online. As a result private and public information will no longer be two different things.  And we might not even realise it.

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