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Our personal information is now currency and we should spend it more wisely

I like to talk a lot about security and privacy. It matters to me, and I place the same astronomical value on my personal data that Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook do. Your data has the same value, and I think we all need to be aware of how our data is used by the people who use it because it's so valuable.

Big tech companies are able to convert our data into dollars and pounds and euros. It becomes their responsibility to collect it the right way, store it the right way, and protect it at any cost. When those companies blunder, because we all do from time to time, the way they handle the issue(s) and what they change to prevent it from happening again in the future is very important. This is why I'll never use another Netgear router without looking at the software, or set up a Yahoo account. If you want to have my valuable data, you need to take good care of it.

Our bits and bytes are now equivalent to dollars and cents. Be as careful with your data as you are with your money.

It's also a given that "accidents" will happen when it comes to storing user data, as will dumb ideas. Evernote serves us a classic example. The original idea of letting actual humans read your private data in any capacity needed a lot more explanation than they provided, so the idea seemed absolutely stupid. They decided to change course and do the right thing after a good amount of kick back and pressure from press and users. We kicked, because they didn't make us feel like they would take proper care of our valuable private data. There was one thing in the whole mess that was great, even if it didn't make up for the things that weren't as great — Evernote didn't try to hide what they were going to do and let everyone know about a big change in advance.

I'm not a user of their services (I like simple notes and reminders versus the do-everything that is Evernote) but I would use Evernote's service if I needed to. Not because I want a human to read my notes, but because they were transparent. They had a change in the works and told everyone in advance so we could take all our data and leave.

Transparency is also part of the reason I, and many others, use Google services.

Your data is part of the reason companies like Google or Microsoft are so successful and have billions of dollars.

Google harvests a scary amount of my (and your) personal data. They know where I am, they know what I buy, they know what bank I use and which airline I prefer. They know about my family — where my kids went to school or where my wife works. They know everything. And they aren't alone. Look at the phone and/or computer you use, and see what things that connect to the internet are installed on it. If any of those companies are big enough and can afford it, they are taking the same types of data in one way or another.

The amount of personal data and the kind of data Google takes — and Apple, and Microsoft and Facebook, and Amazon, and you get the picture here — makes how they handle it and the way they let you know the most important thing about them.

Everything is based on a barter system. I trade my data for a service or product. I look at what data a company wants, how they collect it and what they will do with it once they have it. Then I look at what they are offering. This way, I can decide if the trade is worth it to me. Being able to say "OK Google what's my day like?" and getting a ton of pertinent information from my phone or a Google Home is worth letting a machine look at every word and number that I ever typed online, because I have a very clear and concise document that explains exactly how it's collected, stored, and used. I trust that my data will be kept safe, and if something ever did happen things would be handled in a way I can approve of. I'll grant my trust in advance, and give them the opportunity to use my life's data in exchange for a service I like.

Make sure the things you get in return are as valuable as the data you pay for them with.

I trust Apple and Microsoft the same way. I do wish some of their privacy policies were a bit clearer and less vague, but they do a good job covering the things I'm looking for in general. But I don't use Cortana or One Note, or Siri because that extra bit of my data they need is worth more to me than the duplication of services I get from Google Now and Assistant. Sorry, Microsoft and Apple, you don't get to read my keystrokes and listen to my voice. Not because I don't trust either company, but because I don't need the services either is offering. Millions of others do, and I think it's great that they take care of user's private information. On the flipside, I'll don't trust Facebook because they like to play fast and loose with their privacy policies and surely the things they have been caught doing are just the tip of an iceberg of bad practices.

You need to decide who you trust in the same way. That's not easy. But it's important because you're handing them your data each and every day. Decide who gives you the most in return for the data you pay them with, look into what they do with it and how they keep it safe. This is a discussion we should be having more often.

How we spend this digital currency is a discussion we should be having more often.

Of course, you can also feel that nobody needs your data. I can't say I blame you if you follow a tin-foil hat and scorched earth policy when it comes to being online. And that's the only way to stop the internet giants from taking what they want from you. But I will say that folks who feel they have nothing to hide and just don't care need to rethink their position. I don't have anything to hide either, but I don't want someone from an internet services company to come into my house and rifle through my underwear drawer unless they have something to give me in return.

Google is worth billions of dollars, and the bulk of what made them all that money is our user data. We all need to realize how valuable our information is and that data is now currency. Then we need to make a conscious effort to spend it wisely.

Update August 2017: This post was previously published in December of 2016. The information is still important and relevant.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

62 Comments
  • Great Great Great Article! I specifically use Google not because they are some Knight in shining armor standing on top of a hill. I use Google because I understand their privacy policy and I need what the have. Google services makes my life easier and I'm cool with the trade-off.
  • And they take security seriously.
  • Of all my online accounts, My Google account has never been hacked or anything, unlike my MS, Amazon, Ebay, almost paypal but caught it and so on. Granted the companies caught it after the fact, but still.
  • Excellent article, thanks.
  • Risk Vs. Reward. So far google continues to offer benefits that are worth the data they collect, and I feel they are very open about the fact they collect that scary amount of data.
  • I don't have Fb account. Deleted it completely 2 yrs ago. Don't use Twitter. I have Z3c with disabled almost all from Google. Except Play games, Play services and Play store. In privacy options I paused everything except device info. Before that I deleted everything I could from the "Beggining of time".
    I guess they don't have much use of me, tough I'm sure they can find a way to take what they want. Maybe a placebo, but it keeps me calm. :-) Great article, btw! :-)
  • Great article, but trusting a company doesn't make your data safe, look at the way icloud got hacked like 2 years ago for example. You may trust said company not to misuse your data, but they can't keep it safe. I admit Google does some cool stuff with my data, but it's nothing short of creepy how well they know me, what I like, where I go etc.
  • I assume that every service — even Google — will eventually get hacked. How things are handled when that happens determines how I'll react. Apple PR was wrong to place the blame for iCloud on the user. I used the simple brute force tool from SourceForge on my own iCloud account and can say that a password that would never be hacked by it doesn't exist. The tool was easy and fast, and nobody was safe even if they used complex passwords. At least it taught people that ILOVEPUPPIES is a shitty password but >>dht%bng67_htPUPPIESILOVE is a great password :) But Apple fixed things correctly and quickly, even if they tried to spin things off as user error.
  • And now I have to change my password...
  • I use iloveTurtles so I am safe.
  • ILOVEPUPPIES? That's amazing, I've got the same password on my luggage.
  • Like the shout-out to Space Balls.
  • Nice article, Jerry. I'm another one who doesn't necessarily mind Google mining my data to serve me ads or provide services I like. At least they do a pretty good job of providing things I might actually be interested in. This is unlike Yahoo that took all that data and couldn't seem to figure out how to serve me anything but ads for dating websites. That, and the news this week, has finally pushed me to completely go through my LastPass site by site and remove any traces of Yahoo email addresses and replace them with new Gmail accounts. At least Google can figure out that when 90% or more of my searches have to do with Android phones, Chromebooks, Linux, and other tech-type stuff that it would probably be safe to say I would be interested in seeing ads for those things.
  • I'm not too worried about the random personal data Google collects, but I do worry about the info I willingly give Google that would hurt me if it got into the wrong hands (like bank account info & passwords.) Having so much information stored in one account bothers me. I try to keep it to a minimum but it's hard when your browser, phone and all of the Google Services it uses is tied to one Google account. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Thanks for the heads-up on the Netgear routers Jerry! I checked my router after reading that and sure thing, it's one of the affected models. I'm applying new firmware as we speak...
  • Excellent article, and not just because I agree with everything you said:-) I long ago reached the same conclusions. I picked ONE company I'd let access my personal data I chose Google and I did that because they've tried to "don't be evil" and a big part of that is they've always been transpare and consistent in their policies. I looked at MS and they don't come close in that area. I could probably trust Apple but I can't buy into their closed way of life. Facebook has repeatedly shown themselves to be the Donald Trump of social companies, collecting your personal information while promising to be responsible and then changing their policies after the fact to disclose it far and wide got a profit. I do have a Yahoo! account. It has zero accurate personal data and I use it when another site I don't trust wants an email address.
  • Excellent article, thanks a lot. It helps me look at things the right way. As a complete side note, I am getting personal emails meant for at least two different people, and others in the past, because Yahoo let others have the same initial dot surname based Yahoo email address I have had for 16+ years. I think part of the reason people don't want to change or leave an email / account is not being able to start a new account with an address that's available.
  • Another reason is because it's a real PITA to change the contact email for everything you've signed up for - a list that will invariably get longer the longer you've had a particular email address.
  • Exactly. That's what I meant to add.
    ATM I can't think of a way to improve that though.
  • I get email for other people on Gmail also from people who forget to put the number(s) after their surname in the addy.
    Flights, food orders even a domain registration. The domain registration one was funny because I did a whois lookup and called the guy and he said he'd handle it but the site went down anyway after time to verify the email ran out.
  • Great read man.
  • You haz no privacy. All your data it belongz to us!
  • Another great informative article Jerry. Thanks!
  • Best privacy article I have read in a long time. Totally agree, kudos !!
  • Great article. I think transparency, accountability and recognition of the value of a customer's trust and information are pillars of a good organization. Personally it is very important for me to be able to control what information is out there about me. I expect an organization to continue to focus on moral and ethical considerations as a way to become truly successful. I also value the ability to update, change, and view all my information that is held by an organization oh and also the right to be forgotten. We need to keep fighting the good fight in understanding the power of information and making sure it is being used for the benefit of the people meaning the way they expect it to be treated.
  • Great great article as always. I use two well all three but have most my data in Google and Microsoft. I've seen few people here not liking MS policy. What is the difference between their policies. I would like to know. But that policies it's too long and partially incomprehensible to read.
    And I use two factor password wherever available. It bothers me that Netflix doesn't have two factor.
  • Google doesn't share the data they collect for advertising, Microsoft does. Microsoft's privacy policy states some of the companies they share with (Yahoo is one of them) under the "How We Use Personal Data...Advertising" section here: https://privacy.microsoft.com/en-US/privacystatement I have a Windows desktop, but I've disabled OneDrive, Cortana and as much telephony as I can. I'm also one of those that switched from SwiftKey to Google Keyboard when Microsoft bought the former. I agree about Netflix, I haven't heard when or if they plan to support 2FA.
  • And as it applies to Apple, while their stance on personal privacy is admirable and something Google should try to emulate more, they are not as transparent as the BigG on what they DO know. To the best of my knowledge Apple has no Google-dashboard-like webpage where a user can review the information Apple has collected on you specifically, nor a method for correcting/deleting anything erroneous or otherwise. Apple reveals almost nothing about "what they know", and they surely know a good amount about their users. Also, and purely my opinion, I don't think Apple would be as forthcoming in the event of a breach either.
  • Good article, but I personally don't care anymore. Privacy doesn't exist anymore unfortunately.
  • Excellent article! This is something that all persons who use the internet need to read.
  • What about BlackBerry? They require you to install their 'Hub+ Services' to be able to use their software. The services require every single Android permission, with no real explanation of what they do with the information they collect. I trust Google, so I have a 6p. I'll buy a Pixel XL long before I even consider a DTEK.
  • If Samsung allowed you to install touchwiz, it would also require every permission. Hub+ services is basically a complete UI layer to enable the hub to be the catch-all it was designed to be. As far as trust BlackBerry, yeah I trust them. I don't like that they gave encryption keys to several governments, but they didn't try to hide what they did and you know exactly how your data is handled when they have it. Blackberry is always going to comply fully with a lawful order for data, so know that going in.
  • I don't trust a company giving the global private key to police departments at all. For years :)
  • Probably one of the best articles I've read on Android Central. Thanks for bringing this to the general public.
  • Great article. Could you elaborate a bit more on the reasons you trust Facebook less than the other companies?
  • When they update a feature or add a feature, your privacy settings are reset to default. You'll also need to log in the desktop site to actually see most of the settings. They use data they collect to offer ads that can be served to users based on the color of their skin, but never ask the color of your skin. That means they're assembling a profile that's in no way anonymous. They do not allow you to pull your data and close your account. instead, they will mark you as inactive while still collecting data about you through their web partners and cookies. They purposefully included bugs in their android app, collected data about how users handled those bugs, compared them to iOS users who didn;t have the bugs introduced, and sold the data. Those are a few of the biggest issues.
  • So what brand of router would you recommend?
  • For a normal user who doesn't want to have to worry about things, a Google OnHub if you can find one on sale, or a Google Wifi if you can't. You're trading more data to Google and in return they keep things updated against known exploits. If you don't mind getting a little more technical, buy a router that you can run custom firmware on, It's usually updated much faster than OEM firmware and still fairly easy to install and upgrade. If you want to go all the way, drop two network cards into a computer and head to https://www.freebsd.org/.
  • Thank you Jerry!
  • You got it man. I can't find the link, but either Engadget or Ars had a write up about building your own router from cheap ARM mini-PC and Ubuntu that was simple and perfect for someone who wants to play around with things. A PC with an ethernet connection and a good Wifi card or dongle just stomps most routers when it comes to performance.
  • You mentioned FreeBSD... Have you considered, or use, pfsense? I've been upgrading my internal network, and there are some really good options there (they just released the SG-1000, which seems to be a great starting point if you don't want to built it yourself). Of course, listening to you over the years and reading your articles, I'd bet that you simply use BSD and set up something like iptables to do your routing.
  • And depending on the hardware you buy, you can get the benefit of third-party firmware without having to do the installation yourself. Some of Buffalo's AirStation routers are available running DD-WRT out of the box, rather than Buffalo's proprietary firmware.
  • Netgear has always made garbage routers.
  • I never have liked FB. I think they are very intrusive. I like Gmail because thier spam filter works really well. I have a yahoo account that is junk. When Verizon buys them I delete my account.
  • Why would u wait until then? Yahoo obviously doesn't care or is clueless on how to protect their users' data. Garbage company.
  • I've only ever given facebook a SpamGourmet address and don't user their mobile apps, only their mobile web interface and decline location sharing in chrome). I still have a yahoo account for access to a yahoo group, may have to look into moving the yahoo group to another provider...
  • Great article. I personally think my info is spread around too much. Recently, I typed in my cell phone into Google search. I couldn't believe My full name, age, address, and a picture of my house came up.
  • I got my name, that was all, one listing said it was a verizon number, it isn't (anymore, ported to another carrier many years ago).
  • As always: excellent article, Jerry.
  • Great article Jerry! Also a worthy note is that google has an option to download all of your personal content they have of you. Under the Personal info & privacy section of your google account settings you can create an archive of everything they have of you so you can have a personal backup of all of all that rich data! Keep up the good work as always!
  • Excellent article. I struggle with conveying this message to my users, but generally try to hit the same themes that you hit upon here. I'll be sharing this one!
  • Of the big three, I agree that Google definitely does the best job of saying what it's doing with your personal data. I feel they could do a better job of explaining how they make money using the data they collect because you see far too many people spewing the nonsense that they sell it outright, and that's why people seem to trust them less despite their excellent track record. As for Apple, while I trust in their security, Apple pretends it doesn't care about your data, which no-one with half a brain cell should believe, because of course they do (it may not be their main business, but they want it as much as the next guys). They're usually upheld as the privacy darlings but in actuality they could stand to learn from Google about how to be transparent. MS is a bit vague and shares it about as someone else outlined above. Having faith that a company is keeping your data safe is a bit different to trusting them to trust someone else to.keep your data safe ...
  • I hang out with Siri, Alexa, and Cortana. If Assistant ever gets a name she's invited too. No sense in short changing my experience.
  • me too. I have a windows machine and a mac mini sitting side by side. I use both all the time. (Siri / Cortana) will use apple speaker thing when it comes out too
  • Google is now capturing everything of email browsed information and even the things you use in email... If there is any AI program in future, (like in terminator movie) it would know everything we will do in future and lock us up or even control by guessing out pattern of life. This looks horrible in future after 30 years from now.
  • Yes, I killed FB years ago but I bet if I wanted to rejoin they would have all my info....
  • Great article Jerry. I was writing my sociology paper and was contrasting the Millennials and Gen-Xers and the affects technology has had on them. I came to the conclusion that Millennials are better equipped to deal with their information because they largely realize that they are a commodity. I guess it took the rest of us a bit longer to realize that but better late than never.
  • Problem is so many apps require that info. I try to deny and it cancels out most of the time. But I agree with this article on my privacy.
  • "Update August 2017: This post was previously published in December of 2016, The information is still important and relevant."
    ...How is that an "update" though?
  • An informative article. Do you suggest us to give a read on those big policy documents Google, Microsoft & other biggies have for the services?
  • Honestly why I've been moving to Apple devices. Less maintenance, and so much easier to shut stuff down. They're also more into devices than service estimates, like Google and Microsoft. I stopped using Facebook years ago, and Twitter over a year ago (and I only used it to read - I never tweeted). I avoid services owned by those companies as well. No Gmail or YouTube account. No SwiftKey. No Cortina or Google Assistant. No Google or Bing Search. And I stopped buying devices running their operating systems. Apple is the only choice moving forward. The least worst option available...
  • Laws are needed that retain data ownership with the user, not the company. Free is not free. People need a reality check. Some of these comments are naive, and Donald Trump has nothing to do with Facebook.