How to Manage the Threats to Our Privacy and Financial Security in the Digital Age

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- From financial background to health information that could impact our ability to acquire insurance or get a job, how much data are we really giving away about ourselves?

The risks take on lots of different shapes: You've got the hackers in one corner, threatening to steal your identity and take advantage of you through illegal means. You've got corporations and governments in another, happily learning everything about you that they can, usually from data whose release you signed off on, whether you knew it or not. And then you've got the in-betweens: the flashlight apps that gather details about you that far transcend turning on the flash of your phone, the companies (and governments) that cross the line. In a largely unregulated new world of information technology, it's often hard for consumers to know where the line is at all, or if it even exists.

When thinking about which parts of your personal information are being shared, how they're being shared and whether that sharing is the default, the core question of "Can I trust this company with my data?" is something consumers need to address, said Chris Babel, CEO of online privacy management company TRUSTe. 

Sometimes we choose to let companies collect data about us because of the benefits we receive: While addressing a room at the recent Internet Week conference in New York, Babel said he could see his Google Nest account in real time and confirm that the heat was off in his house. "This app doesn't collect much data, just if the heat is on or off, if you're home, and so on," he said. "The program was bought by Google, but they repeatedly insist they're not merging their data with Google's." Is the customer to believe that? It comes down to how much you trust the company.

Babel also owns a watch that collects data on where he is at all times. He uses it specifically for kite surfing, so the location information is both interesting and "almost critical," he says.To protect himself from danger at sea, the technology is particularly valuable. But that data can be potentially lucrative for a company or person to have. The question in any trade of information for utility is whether the benefits outweigh any compromise of privacy. 

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