I've been online since 1994. I've shared a lot of information here on my blog, through various social networks, and to different services like Google Maps, Untappd, and many others. That information has often included location, photos, audio and video.
For decades I thought nothing of sharing my current location online. I used check-in services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Gowalla, Swarm and many others. Or I'd share a tweet or a post here on my blog about my current whereabouts.
I've noticed, over the last several years, I do less of that. I post photos here on my blog often weeks or months after I've returned from where I took them. I share them a bit quicker on Instagram - however my account there is private (supposedly). And I rarely tweet on the go these days.
In fact, I've also noticed that I no longer geotag my photos on Instagram or use hashtags that often. Mainly because when I've personally tapped on locations or hashtags on Instagram the search results are less than representative of the location I saw and are simply popular selfies taken at the location.
My desire to do a sort of personal data sharing audit has been slowly building. I will read an article about how Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa is constantly listening in, or how our location is being tracked down to the floor we're on by some apps and I pause, think about what I'm sharing, and sometimes shrug it off because I don't really care if Google knows where I am. In fact, I like that they know where I am and where I want to go. I hop in my car and Android Auto suggest places it believes I would like to go and how long it will take me to get there. Who wouldn't want that?
After all, what do I have to hide?
And then I see this ad from DuckDuckGo (which I use) on Twitter (of all places). It talks about the reasons, beyond criminal or mischievous, that I may want to protect my privacy. DDG's reasons may not exactly be my reasons, but at least they've thought about it. So then I began thinking… "Have I thought much about this? Have I really gone through and made sure I have some sort of personal data sharing policy that I follow?"
So that is what I'm doing with this post. I started writing this post without having a personal data sharing policy and I hope by the time I'm ready to publish it I have version 1 of a policy that is right for me. Of course, suggestions are always welcome and perhaps I'll revisit this topic from time-to-time to keep my personal policy updated.
Here are the main points of my personal data policy as it stands today:
- Never share my current location publicly. I'm going to be certain my habits do not share my current location in a public way. I'm also going to audit any app or service that attempts to use my location data to be certain it does not share my current location publicly.
- Download and remove all of my data from services that I haven't used in over a year. I've got quiet an online trail that I've blazed over the last several decades. While I'm nostalgic for many of these services, and I hate dead URLs, I think it is best if I remove any of that data if I'm no longer using the service.
- Evaluate each app on my mobile devices that use location data and read their privacy policies. In other words, make a more informed decision about what apps I share my location data with.
- Delete any app that I do not use on my mobile devices that could use location or audio data. Believe it or not, many of the small utility apps that exist for free (like, doing fun image editing) have tons of third-party ad network code in them. I have dozens of these but I rarely use them.
Putting this policy in place isn't paranoia. It is about making more educated decisions about what I'm sharing and with what companies. It is about being less cavalier with my own personal data and how it is used. It is about keeping myself and those around me a little safer - maybe. But overall, it is a gentle push to the companies that would profit off of this data to perhaps be more thoughtful and upfront themselves. And to make it just a bit harder on the scammers.