There’s no free lunch is a saying that I’ve heard since I was a little boy, and it rings as true today as it did those so many years ago. I was just doing some work on one of my blogs and updating a few of the programs and I found what was called a “free” app that I thought I would install. So I installed the app, activated it, and then I got the request for extra information that they require before I could use this “free” app. So what is all this information that they require? First they wanted my e-mail address, then they wanted my name, my age, occupation, sex, country of residence, then they wanted me to sign up for their “free” newsletter.
So is this app really free? Not at all!! What the company is doing is they’re making apps that will harvest personal information, so instead of you actually paying with money you’re paying with the information that you give these companies. Some of the companies are quite legit and all they want is to find out who is using the app, and what you’re using it for. Then they will be able to market this feature to other people that fit into the right demographics. This is relatively harmless as all we do is trade information for a app or a feature that we want.
Other companies are not quite so harmless in what they plan to do with the information that they obtain. Many companies will sell your information to other companies that want to sell to you. Say for instance a company knows that I’m a photographer, this will allow them to sell my information to other companies that want to sell me things that would fit in with my photography interest. Things such as photography equipment, training, photography related vacations, and other photography products that I may be interested in.
Still these are not the really bad companies that are out there harvesting your information. There are also many companies that try to compile all the information they can about a person so they can not only market to the person but they could technically take over the person’s life as they know so much about them. Say for instance a web site that you go to, or free app that you install requests your e-mail address and country of residence. Then the next website, program or app requests your e-mail address, your age and your sex. Then the next site, program or app requests your e-mail address as well as your city, and occupation. Then the next on requests your e-mail address as well as your annual income. So you’ve now gone to four websites or you’ve installed four free apps or programs or a combination of these and each has requested your personal information. The company that has been doing the fishing now knows your e-mail address, name, country of residence, your age, your sex, your city, your occupation, and your annual income if not a lot more as you have answered different questions. All this is done in such a way that you don’t even know you gave all this information to the same organization. This can be pretty scary as now the company that has been doing the fishing knows a pile of information about you.
Add to this that many of the sites, or apps, or free programs require you to create a password and the company that has been doing the fishing now has several passwords in its database and they can figure out what other passwords you use just by comparing these. Say for instance on one web site you use a password called mike259, than on the next website use a password called mike260, than on the next website use a password called mike261, and so on and so on and so on. With this information the company can easily figure out what the run is on your passwords and if they really want to hack other sites that you are on they can use programs to do this and start with the information they already have.
So what should you do if you’re asked for personal information on web sites, programs, or apps? The best thing to do is be very careful what you give out. I use an e-mail address that is only used for submissions and registrations and is not my daily e-mail address. This way it if my submission e-mail account gets compromised I can shut it down and friends and customers can still reach me at my usual e-mail address. I also use a wide variety of passwords and make sure that my passwords are not similar to one another. One set of passwords may start with numbers, another one may start with an old nickname, another one may start with a friend’s name, etc., etc. If you want to be really cautious there are programs available that will generate a random passwords for you that you can then write down and enter on these different sites. As for the request for personal information many sites do not make this mandatory so you really do not have to answer the questions. Usually if it is mandatory the site will have a red asterisk next to the field and a note below it saying this is a mandatory field. If a site is requesting personal information and you do not feel comfortable giving it out (you should never give out personal information in my opinion) you can put in a bunch of non related answers to these sites. I keep recipe cards with what I’ve entered in case later on they asked me for this information to retrieve a password or to update something.
The best thing to do is to keep in the back of your mind that there is no free lunch and that once you give out your personal information there is no way to get it back, so be very careful with what you give out.