Feels Like Somebody’s Watching Me

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Last Thursday, I attended a seminar entitled “Protecting Personal Privacy in Today’s Digital World,” sponsored by First Foundation Bank at the Balboa Bay Club.

I knew it was going to be an interesting presentation, but little did I know the shocking information about our personal privacy – or rather, lack thereof – that was about to be revealed by keynote speaker Jack Vonder Heide, one of the nation’s leading authorities on technology and its impact on American business .

Thanks to the ever-changing advances in technology, to say Big Brother is breathing down our necks is a gross understatement, based on what Mr. Vonder Heide told us. And for some of the major business owners in the room, protecting themselves from cyber criminals probably jumped way up their priority list after what we learned.

The sad thing is that most of us who use iPhones or iPads or purchase items online via our laptops don’t even realize the tracking that has been put in place. And worse, we agree to it, even encourage it, usually unwittingly or simply because we have to in order to access applications, information, etc.

For example, Mr. Vonder Heide pointed out that most people after purchasing an iPad or iPhone, quickly unpack it from its sleek, sexy white box and in a hurry to get it up and running, hit every “Terms & Conditions” agreement that pops up just to get the darn thing going. By doing so, this gives Apple and its “strategic partners” permission to “track” every move, be it what you search online, purchase, where you bank, what you post on Facebook, etc.

He referred to the Apple Terms and Conditions, 54 pages long, which in part reads “Apple’s website, online services, interactive applications, email messages, and advertisements may use ‘cookies’ and other technologies such as pixel tags and web beacons. These technologies help us better understand user behavior.”

But hold on folks, it gets better: “At times, Apple may make certain personal information available to strategic partners that work with Apple. Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device.”

Yikes. I hadn’t even heard of pixel tags or web beacons before Thursday and I’m sure I don’t fully understand the implications of the above statements, but alas, I agreed to them in order to use my iphone and ipad.

Want to have a shock? If you use any kind of “smart” device or even an 8-year-old laptop, log on to networkadvertising.org, a website which helps consumers safeguard their online privacy.

I went on to check what companies were tracking me and was stunned to see that there were 94 different analytics firms, websites and others tracking my every move, including the activity on my website OCSocialScene.

The good news is that, similar to the “do not call” lists for phones, there is a consumer opt-out on the site so you can remove yourself from the lists. The bad news is that you have to do so on a regular basis because, even as I searched for the image for this column, I enabled a “strategic partner” to start tracking me.

Vonder Heide kept everyone on the edge of their seats with an overview of the inexpensive ways in which people can use technology to not only get all our information, but conduct untraceable cyber crime.

Take for example the Forensic Extraction Device developed by the military and used by law enforcement agencies all over the world to extract information off the phones and computers of bad guys. Well, what if a bad guy gets access to that same technology?

Hold on to your seats, because for only $144.95, you can purchase an iPhone Spy Stick which enables its owner to not only download everything stored on your device, but also recover deleted text messages, emails, map searches, hidden contacts, passwords, etc.

This could be an effective tool if you are trying to keep an eye on a troubled teen or suspect a cheating spouse, but put one of these babies in the hands of a disgruntled employee, business competitor or criminal, and the results could be catastrophic.

And then there was the “Porn Detector iBot” which for only $99.95 enables its owner to detect all downloaded and deleted porn from most computers. I am not sure, but when Mr. Vonder Heide brought this to everyone’s attention, I felt some squirming going on in the room.

I only wish I had more space to tell you about the many other topics discussed, and I want to thank First Foundation Bank for holding what was probably the most substantive informational presentation I have ever attended. They certainly look out for their clients by providing this kind of information.

And if you want to learn more or have Mr. Vonder Heide speak to your company or organization I encourage you to visit his Technology Briefing Center’s website at  tbchq.com.

Columnist Lynn Selich resides in Newport Beach. Reach her at  [email protected]

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  1. Not to mention my employer (I am an outside sales person) has provided me with an iphone and ipad that I must keep location services on at all times during business hours including my breaks and lunch – so my employer knows my every move. If I go to the doctor, run personal errands, stop by my church and/or my political party’s office – my employer knows things about me they can’t ask in an interview.