You’re probably reading this on your Smartphone or digital tablet, which has one or two free apps your thumbs frequently prod and swipe across. I say ‘free app’ with a slight curl of my bottom lip and the reason is simple: the app is not exactly free.
Society is in a time where digital usage frames its day-to-day activities, both at home and work. With mass digital usage comes mass free apps, and unfortunately there is a catch, as the saying goes.
The Smartphone apps labelled ‘free’ pre-download, can only afford to offer them to the consumer for free because the companies that develop them sell the users’ personal data – something barely explained in the terms and conditions.
In business, personal information has become a raw material. If the service is free, then you’re the product. People are under constant surveillance from companies and governments and the rules protecting privacy are – as digital experts say – hopelessly out of date.
It’s a double-edged sword which the software developers thrive on, as users want the app as a means to an end, whilst the end of the user’s privacy begins the very moment the app is downloaded onto the digital device.
The challenges are severe because the companies collect large amounts of information on the most innocuous of activities, which formerly leave no trace of data. What’s curious is how mobile phones, given the span of their technological evolution in specifications, allow the companies to track the devices with almost no legal safeguards.
Computer-security expert, Bruce Schneier, calls for “stronger rules to prevent companies from collecting so much data in the first place”.
Government reforms are “probably better aimed at bringing well-built legal reinforcement to the existing system than at hoping to change it altogether”, he adds.