Your Data Is Way More Exposed Than You Realize:

About The Video Above: People would care more about privacy if they knew how exposed they already are online, says WSJ Personal Tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler. In an experiment, he showed a handful of strangers their own personal info—and managed to shock every one. Photo/Video: Emily Prapuolenis/The Wall Street Journal


The Wall Street Journal | By: Geoffrey A. Fowler Updated May 24, 2017 7:32 p.m. ET:

To get a handle on your online privacy, first understand how much of your data is already out there, and how it can be weaponized

Privacy wasn’t a concern for her until it was too late.

The woman, who agreed to share her story if she weren’t to be identified, told me she left home one midnight, after four years in a relationship. She moved away and restarted her life. But then, she says, she was bombarded by phone calls from men soliciting her for sex. Then came bizarre friend requests on social media. She says one man showed up at her house.

She suspected her ex of stalking her online, and posting her information to fuel harassment. “It is psychological torture,” she told me.

She turned to a domestic-violence shelter for technical and legal help, including working with Verizon in an effort to unmask some of the phone numbers she’d logged as harassing, and helping her file for her state’s “Safe at Home” status, which would shield her address from public records.

Her nightmare, which is ongoing, might not resemble your life or mine. But it’s a stark reminder that erosion of privacy is a cancer of digital life. And while we might not talk about privacy as often as the latest cool app, it’s only getting worse.

I hear this all the time: “I have nothing to hide.” The truth is, pretty much everybody does something online they have reason to keep private. You can’t see the future. The woman I spoke to said she never planned on getting into what she described as a terrible relationship.

What has your web browser seen that could embarrass you later? This isn’t just about porn. Have you hunted for a new job, streamed the ball game at work, investigated a crush or googled the morning-after pill? Imagine having a report about it show up on the desk of your boss, spouse or legal adversary. The most innocuous fragments of your digital life— Facebook posts, even the Find My iPhone app—can be weaponized to target or harass.

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