UK
06/07/2013 14:26 BST | Updated 06/07/2013 16:10 BST

Forget The NSA Scandal, How Much Data Do We Willing Give Away To Facebook And Google?

Your alarm goes off on your mobile to wake you up at half six, and you fumble to turn it off. Swiping to turn off the ringing, you'll see alerts that show you have emails, a new friend request on Facebook or that you've been tagged in Instagram photos or a pal has tagged you in the bar you went to last night.

You flick over to a paid newspaper app, and have a whizz through the day's headlines. A text drops from your friend, reminding you owe her £100 for that upcoming summer holiday, so you scroll over to your banking app and transfer her the money, pausing to Google the hotel you'll all be staying at.

Before you've even had a shower, you have shared with the internet your location, your finances, your interests and your habits.

spying online

Do we understand how much we are really sharing online?

Later on, you'll share how you travel, by tapping in your Oyster card or filling up the car and paying with a brand card, you'll share your shopping habits in the supermarket using a loyalty card, friends will talk about you and your movements on social networks, and your life will be captured on hundreds of CCTV cameras as you go about your business.

In the wake of the GCHQ and NSA Prism scandals, should we be more concerned with how much data we give away on a daily basis?

Or are the perks we get, discounts and relationships online, a price worth paying for chipping away at our privacy?

We seem to be happy to share, for the most part. A survey last month by Infosys found that consumers worldwide are willing to share personal information in order to get better service from their doctors, bank and retailers according to the results of a new survey.

People in the UK feel comfortable sharing data with doctors (91 per cent), banks (74 per cent) and retailers (69 per cent); however, the research shows contrasting nuances.

Consumers in the United States are less concerned about the invasive issue (30 per cent) than in the other countries surveyed, while German consumers are less willing to share personal data that in other countries.

But do companies make it clear enough about exactly what we are sharing?

Some of the most popular online resources, like Google and Facebook have built their success from getting people to part with their privacy, and making it harder for people to know exactly how their data will be used. At about 8,700 words, Facebook's privacy policy is not a simple read.

This week alone, the Information Commissioner wrote to Google, expressing that the search engine privacy policy "does not provide sufficient information to enable UK users of Google’s services to understand how their data will be used across all of the company’s products. Google must now amend their privacy policy to make it more informative for individual service users."

The rule of thumb, according to Dr Louise Bennett, is if you are using a free service online, for the most part you are the product they are making money from. "Google makes money by having a very good search engine, and making money from targeting advertising at you and knowing all your habits," she told HuffPost UK.

Bennett, the chair of security for BCS, the chartered institute for IT continued: "Facebook was set-up originally to find cool girls to date. Privacy is not an overriding concern, therefore. It was added as an afterthought. Privacy settings are changed all the time.

"Privacy is not there by default. There is facial recognition on photos posted on Facebook, for example. People who may not want their face recognised in those photos.

"I don't know why anyone was surprised about Edward Snowden's revelations. Any of us, if we really thought about it, would think our governments engaged in lawful espionage. Why should we be concerned about that, and yet have a complete absence of concern about the corporations collecting so much data from us?

"Online you have your back details, medical records, education records, work information and comments and photos that friends and even people you barely know have posted of you."

People do forfeit their privacy because it seems to have a benefit. "We sign up to loyalty cards or discount cards, or like brands on Facebook because they do have a benefit to us, we get a discount or a good offer," Index on Censorship's Digital Policy Advisor Brian Pellot told HuffPostUK.

"We use Oyster because it's convenient, it gives a discount. There isn't anything intrinsically wrong with that, but we do need to be made aware of exactly what data we are giving away. And we have to question what is being shared about us.

"I actually think that people were not as shocked about the revelations of PRISM than you might expect, they go, oh we already know the government reads our data, I've got nothing to hide. But everyone has things they don't want made public. And even if they don't, there is a fundamental right to privacy.

"People do have a right to expect that when they send an email in Gmail that it will be private, and go directly to the sender.

"But it passes through the company, then through the server, the internet cable, it goes through a lot of people to reach the person you are sending it to."

According to Index's Pellot, there are alternatives for people who don't want their data monitored. "There's a website called Prism Break, which shows alternative ways of working online, without using some of the companies accused of giving away so much data," he said.

But BCS' Bennett warns that despite being a "privacy wonk, who checks all the privacy settings" she has been surprised in the past by just how much data has shared about her. "I have a mobile phone in my maiden name. My husband was arranging to have something installed in our home, which he paid for on his credit card.

"And I got a cheery text to my phone, saying when it would be delivered. I was very surprised indeed that they had worked out the connection between us. They linked me with a different name, in the same house, to that delivery."

A Day In the Life Of Your Data

Big Brother Watch's deputy director Emma Carr tells HuffPost UK how your data is captured in a typical day

06.30am Wake up, read a newspaper's online edition, perhaps comment on an article

  • Information here can be gathered in two ways, indirectly by you using an app, or directly where you tell the app your details.
  • Information could be used to remember you when you visit the website and track browsing patters via cookies
  • Cookies are used to remember you when you visit a website and keeps track of your browsing patters and to build up a profile of how you and others use the website to administer services to you and advertisers
  • Third party advertisers also use cookies to track when you have seen a particular advert and how many times you have seen it.
  • You can turn off cookies, This may restrict your use of the website. You can also turn off cookies from third party advertisers, but that involves going to their website and turning them off directly
  • 7.30am Approve some LinkedIn or Facebook friend requests or photo tags

    • Depending on your privacy settings you may be sharing all your photos, posts, likes etc with your new 'friend'
    • Make sure that you adjust your privacy settings for blanket control, or adjust for certain groups of friends
    • But the main way of ensuring it is private is don't post it!

    8.00am Click on some shared links to brand pages

    • Your preference for certain brands will be monitored via cookies

    9.00am Log on to your work computer

    10.00am Head out for a meeting, check email on phone

    • Depending on who your email provider is there is a huge amount of information that could be shared.
    • There are lots of legal issues surrounding Google's privacy policy
    • Mobile phones can be tracked using mobile positioning, which included location based service that discloses the actual coordinates of a mobile phone, and is used by telecommunications companies to approximate where a mobile phone temporarily resides.
    • Crowd-sourced Wifi can also be used to identify a handsets location. 
    • Companies have also been accused of selling on data 

    11.30am Travelling back to office on the tube, log on to shared wifi, and send email

    12.30pm Touch out using oyster card

    • If registered then the oyster card can be used to track your journey
    • If not, then the card may still be linked to credit card or other identifying material
    • Police have used oyster card data for 'crime detection and prevention', although TfL do state that they only store information for '8 weeks'

    1.30pm Buy some lunch at a supermarket with a loyalty card

    • There was a story last year about 'Government health experts' wanting to use loyalty card data to provide targeted information to people about their diet and general health 
    • If you sign up, a supermarket knows basic data such as name, address, gender and contact details (provided when you sign up). But they can also ask to know how many people there are in the household, do you own a car, how often you shop.
    • Every time a card is used, details of the date, location and points awarded and what you bought are recorded.

    6.00pm Arrive home, take the car to fill up, paying on card

    • If needed, the police could trace that you had payed on your card at a specific petrol station and at a specific time

    7.00pm Have a conversation with a friend abroad over Skype

    • The same data can be collected here as over email

    8.30pm Check in to a bar with friends, taking a snap on Instagram, and tweet your location

    • Your geo-location data is collected