Whether we realise it or not, we are all living our virtual lives in the cloud.

From social media, video and music streaming, instant messaging and email services, to video conferencing tools, organisational apps and cloud storage platforms, almost every aspect of our digital lives has become decoupled from our hard drives.

Given this decentralisation of data, how can you be sure your privacy is protected?

Hands up if you’ve ever read an entire data privacy policy or social media terms of service. If you have, you’re in the minority. It’s virtually impossible to use the internet today and actually read all the data policies that pop out at you every few seconds.

The truth is, no one reads these mammoth documents, some of which are wordier than Shakespeare’s Macbeth!

And when you dig deeper, there are some shocking details, especially from the largest tech players — Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and so on.

From reserving the right to change the entire policy without notifying you, or absolving themselves of all responsibility for data loss, to asserting the right to use your name and image in advertising without consent, it’s no joke.

So what’s to be done about it? Let’s take a look at who could be looking at your data and what you can do to protect your privacy as much as possible.

Who’s Looking at Your Data?

The short answer is: anyone who’s willing to pay.

Big tech is fuelled by its customers’ data. As the saying goes: if you’re not paying for a product, you are the product.

Here’s the implicit deal: we get free tools to make our lives easier, and they get to know everything about us. This primary data is used to help their customers target ads and is also sold to third-parties who piece it all together and sell the insights to all manner of organisations.

Insurance and credit brokers, advertisers and marketers, governments, big business — these days, big data is used in every industry to analyse trends, determine strategy and target specific segments of the population. They all have an incentive to know what you are looking at and try to figure out what you want.

All kinds of data are collected from every interaction you have online. Where you use your credit cards, what you buy, what you search for, who you chat to, can all be used to determine your likes and dislikes, habits, and patterns of behaviour.

This detailed account of Facebook’s use of customer data gives you some idea of the scale of what’s going on. It details that level of deception between how the company presents its terms of use as a way to protect and help you, and what is really going on behind the scenes.

It goes through all the data that we willingly give up as well as the myriad ways in which Facebook uses underhand tactics, from turning off encryption on your Messenger chats by default, to tracking your IP address even when it doesn’t have permission to access your phone’s GPS.

Facebook uses code embedded via buttons and its tracking pixel to track your behaviour on third-party sites. It was forced to admit that in just one week in April 2018, its Like and Share buttons were present on 931,000 pages and the Facebook pixel was on 2.2 million pages.

The data is used to build up a profile of who you are and what you like.

Why Should You Care?

Data-driven marketing enables better personalisation of ads and services. It is supposed to offer you more accurate search results to help you find what you want faster and make your life more convenient by tailoring apps and services to your individual needs.

So is it such a bad thing?

The problem is, with ever-more sophisticated algorithms looking at the patterns and piecing all your data together, the targeting is getting exponentially more effective. This may sound like a good thing but what about the autonomy and individual freedom we value.

A study by Cisco in 2019 found that 84% of internet users say they care about data privacy and want more control over their data. Yet a study by Pew Research Center in the same year found that 81% of US adults feel they have little or no control over the data collected about them. This gap between wanting control but feeling powerless demonstrates the scale of the problem.

Once you give away your privacy, your data can be used for whatever purposes the biggest players want. And in such a new and fast-moving industry, there is little regulation. Where it does exist, it quickly becomes obsolete as new technologies are invented.

In a world where an algorithm knows more about you than your own mother, where it’s easier to to be told what to buy than to think for yourself, we are facing some serious questions about how far we want to go with personalisation and targeting.

These things have real-world implications. Your profile, created by scraping information from multiple sources, is likely to be wrong in many ways, yet it may be used to determine if you can get a mortgage or a job. This could easily lead to an exacerbation of inequalities and the favouring of certain demographics over others.

It’s a complex issue, but one thing is certain: it’s better to be in control of who sees your data.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Privacy?

Ask to be Removed from Databases Directly

There are various ways to try and extricate yourself from databases, from filing a complaint with your local authority or government, to using initiatives like DMAChoice, the aim of which is to help people remove their data from direct mail lists and databases.

Opt-out When You Can

Get into the habit of reading terms of service and privacy policies as much as you can bare to and unchecking boxes that give away your data unnecessarily. It may not be feasible to never opt-in but being aware of the issue means you can give away as little privacy as possible.

Change Your Privacy Settings

Social media platforms are notorious for their shady privacy policies, which isn’t too surprising when you consider they make their money from selling your information to advertisers. The default settings are often set to a level that benefits the platform as much as possible. You can limit the extent to which they can use your data by looking carefully at the privacy settings and setting them up on your own terms.

Here’s how to change your settings to best protect your privacy on the major social media platforms: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.

Use a Responsible Cloud Storage Provider

The big boys of cloud storage — the likes of Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud, and Microsoft’s OneDrive, are notorious for their approach to users’ privacy.

As a general rule of thumb, sites that are built for sharing, like Google Drive, Dropbox, and WeTransfer, are not good places to store sensitive information. Because in order for the information to be shared easily, it must be unencrypted for both parties. A platform set up for security and privacy makes sure your data is only unencrypted when you want to access it.

There are other platforms that take your data privacy more seriously, some offering encryption, or aggregating services allowing you to access all your cloud storage from one place, but there’s one platform that does all of this.

Treasure was built on the principle of respect for your data privacy and gives you the convenience of using your existing cloud storage providers in one place, with the peace of mind that your data is encrypted. You get your own unique security key, which is backed-up on the system, so you can be sure exactly who is looking at your data — putting you in control of your own privacy.

Treasure is open and transparent about handling customer data and the team is passionate about respecting your privacy. The terms are deliberately straightforward and are designed to protect the user first and foremost.

You can get 10GB encrypted storage with a free Treasure account. Or if you need more space, you can recommend Treasure to your friends and get up to 50GB of storage for free.