Your Data Privacy – Are you Safe?

By Anj Handa

I have been observing the furore of Cambridge Analytica from a distance, surprised only that the extent of the use of private data has just now come to the fore. I’m a private individual and yet my landline has been tapped twice (more on this in a bit) yet I have knowingly continued to use social media.

The ‘knowing’ part is key. I don’t want to alarm you, but your data is not as secure as you might believe it is, despite your best efforts. The minute you sign up to any social media channel, your privacy is compromised.

By signing up to apps, (even worthy apps such as Amnesty or Change.org), you give consent for your personal information to be accessed, and in some cases, stored.

The level of information held about you might shock you. Just go to Facebook>Settings>Ad Settings and see what’s there…

In the ‘Your Information’ section, click on the ‘Your Categories’ tab. It will show your birth month, the model of your phone, which browser you use and other information, such as ‘Lives away from family’, ‘Close Friend of Ex-Pats’.

In some cases, the app developer will not only hold numbers from your mobile contacts, but also logs of calls.

So what can you do about it?

You can delete previously held apps, or leave Facebook and Instagram, which it owns. Some companies still require you to contact them if you would like to have your data removed.

Their advice reads as follows: ‘Note: [Insert app name] may still have the data you shared with them. For details about removing this data, please contact [Organisation] or view their Privacy Policy.’

This lack of privacy first became apparent to me in 2007. A friend contacted me to say that a photo of me with a diverse group of female friends was being used by a leisure company.

Since the image had once been a profile photo (which is universally set to Public), they had been able to access the image and use it in their marketing.

Someone on the line…

In 2013, I was approached by the Embassy of an African regime. They had heard about my gender equality work by reputation and contacted me about consultancy to support their female health-related initiatives. I received a flurry of emails and was even invited to meet senior officials at the Embassy in London.

However, I like to know what I am getting myself into, so had started to do my research. A contact at Amnesty put me in touch with a former citizen who had fled the country following the killing of his family members and destruction of his family home.

On our first Skype call, he warned me that our communication might be monitored – and so it was. Emails arrived anywhere between a few hours and a few days of being sent and there were clicks on my line.

Contact from the Embassy ceased. From being courted by them, I’d been dropped like a hot potato.

And again…

In 2014, I commenced the high-profile legal and media campaign to prevent the deportation of asylum-seeker Afusat Saliu and her two daughters, who were deemed to be at risk of female genital mutilation if sent to her home country.

There was significant attention on the case since my Change.org petition had generated 126,500 signatures and MPs and other personalities had become involved.

During one of my calls with a local MP, from my landline to his, there was a familiar ‘click’. “Sorry, I don’t know what happened there, the line just dropped”, I said. “You know ‘they’ are listening in” he replied.

With nothing to hide, I continued the conversation. “If ‘they’ want to waste their time by listening in to my parents calling to ask when I’m coming around for tea, that’s fine by me!”

Speaking up, regardless

As a private individual and business owner, I’m unconnected to Government and have the freedom to lobby against issues that matter to me and yet my influence was deemed to be of enough significance to be monitored.

Do not let this put you off! Here in the UK, we live in a democracy. We have the freedom of speech and the power to speak up for injustice. Use your words wisely and diplomatically.

My personal mission is to encourage more women (people!) to be more political.

Being political isn't just about running for office. It's about learning to navigate and work with - and within - established systems. Click To Tweet

We will amplify your voice through Inspiring Women Changemakers. Where to start? Follow us on Facebook or Twitter and join in the conversations.

Anj Handa is the Founder of Inspiring Women Changemakers. She helps women to speak up: for themselves, for others and for social issues.