Online data security: does virtual privacy really exist?

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In the thriving metropolis we live in today, the use of social media platforms and online shopping is a norm. Bustling New Yorkers check their social networking sites as they move to and fro to keep up with friends, family, and pop culture. With their increasingly busy schedules, people are resorting to online shopping for its accessibility and the convenience of not having to leave their homes. As a result, people input so much data into an electronic void including their credit card numbers, birthdays, phone numbers, and other sensitive information without knowing how it is processed or where it could end up. This begs the question: is it safe to trust networking sites’ policies that information is kept absolutely private?

Hackers exposed multitudinous data of tech giants Facebook and Google+ in the past weeks. On September 28th, Facebook announced that cybercriminals attained nearly 50 million users’ private information. 10 days later, Google reported that a bug is said to have affected approximately hundreds of thousands of accounts and left their accounts’ sensitive data vulnerable to hackers.

The Facebook attackers utilized a bug that targeted a vulnerability in Facebook’s “View As” feature, which allows users to view their account in the lens of other users. Hackers were then able to control users’ access tokens, which are unique to each login and are responsible for keeping users logged in to Facebook after they exit the site. This enabled hackers to view sensitive information otherwise kept private to the user only, including information shared by friends linked to the profile. They would also gain access to third-party services that were connected to the Facebook account.

After Facebook contacted law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), over 90 million profiles were forcibly logged out, including the accounts of Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. Out of the 90 million accounts, 50 million were impacted.

Google then reported of a bug that exposed the personal data of up to 500,000 people from the social network Google+, as declared in a blog post by the prominent search engine on October 8. The bug revealed the information of people using the social media platform from 2015 to March 2018. Consequently, Google is set to shut down Google+ as of August 2019.

As users of electronic platforms, the public must be aware of the potential threats and the significance of uploading personal information. Chemistry teacher and robotics Head Coach Joel Heitman stated, “Once you put your things into the virtual world, it is exactly what it is; it is a bunch of electronic signals that are sent from one place to another. So if you are of a spiteful nature, then that becomes a target whether it is a major entity such as Google or Facebook or a minor entity… Once it goes digital, it’s everybody’s game.”

These violations of privacy have arisen concerns among many people, including freshman Sai Choudari. “ It’s scary to think that your information is exposed like this. You do not know what the intentions are of the people who hold this information,” she commented.

In an increasingly digitally connected world, unwanted exposure threatens more people than ever before. Therefore, utter discretion and caution are necessary when uploading data onto networking sites. By taking such measures, one will significantly lessen the probability of falling victim to the plunders of digital pirates.