The golden rules for keeping personal information safe (Part II)

Keeping personal information safe is a vague idea. In part I of this piece, we tried to give shape to this idea by sharing some stories.

Now we come to the main part: how to keep your personal information safe.

First, let’s talk about what the government is doing about that.

The somewhat charitable answer is that it is trying. Bureaucracies are not built for speed.

Technology changes fast, and its speed of change does not allow us to make laws quickly enough, or to enforce them firmly enough to keep us safe. Many lawmakers and enforcers struggle with technology and understanding the law surrounding it.

Despite several attempts at data protection laws, including mandating that data be physically stored within a country’s national boundaries (data localisation), these laws cannot keep you safe from the scenarios mentioned in Part I.

So, we come to what we can do to keep our private information safe.

The short answer: you already know what to do.

We are usually careful in most real-world situations, so it’s difficult to be fooled by a deal that looks too good to be true.

Unfortunately, we don’t behave in the same way online. We are used to “free” stuff. Google offers us free search and free email. And Facebook lets us connect with friends for free.

But, as you know in your heart of hearts, nothing is free. Both Google and Facebook use your data to know about you and your wants. And then they use that data to tell others what to sell to you. That’s why if you search for something online, the ads for those things follow you across websites.

Here’s the bottom line: if you are using a free service, you are the product. You are giving away your personal data.

Let us explain this by talking a bit about AutoFi. [And here comes the shameless plug.]

AutoFi, as you may know, helps pay your bills. And often people want to know about cash backs and reward points.

Paytm used to be (and to a degree still is) very aggressive in giving users cashback.

Cred is handing out huge reward points on credit cards.

Most fintech products are free. Most “incentivise” you to use them.

And they are free.

So it surprises people when we tell them that AutoFI charges a monthly fee. Why would you pay a fee when you can pay your bills for free?

Well, as we said before, there is no free lunch. The gigantic fintech companies handing out the freebies are collecting your personal information. They know where you are. They know who you are connected to. They read your SMS and emails.

But AutoFI takes the privacy of data seriously. It only collects the data that it absolutely needs. It doesn’t need to know where you are. It doesn’t need to read your email and SMS. And it doesn’t need access to the list of your contacts in your phonebook.

AutoFi charges a fee from you. So it doesn’t need to sell your data to earn revenue. We have built AutoFI so that our incentives are aligned with yours.

[And here ends the plug. You can breathe again.]

Here are the golden rules for keeping your information safe:

1. Look for service providers who are committed to keeping your data safe. For example,

(a) try using DuckDuckGo as your search engine. The results may not be as good as Google’s. But they promise to keep your data private.

(b) try using Telegram or Signal instead of WhatsApp. The following is from the Telegram website:

Q: How are you going to make money out of this?

We believe in fast and secure messaging that is also 100% free.

Pavel Durov, who shares our vision, supplied Telegram with a generous donation, so we have quite enough money for the time being. If Telegram runs out, we will introduce non-essential paid options to support the infrastructure and finance developer salaries. But making profits will never be an end-goal for Telegram.

This is part of the reason why AutoFi runs on Telegram.

As for WhatsApp, being owned by Facebook “would seem to be a bad start for any app with a focus on security and privacy”.

2. Be careful what permissions you give apps on your phone. Do all those apps really need to know your location? Access your photos? Read every message?

3. When a service is available free, ask why. And if you can’t figure out why, go with the paid version. For example, when investing money, hire an investment advisor and pay them. The “brokers” or “agents” who don’t charge you are getting paid by the entity selling you the product.

4. Don’t be swayed by cash-backs and reward points. That money will eventually come out of your pocket.

Remember, a free pizza is never really a free lunch!

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