Aldo Agostinelli

Quite often, when I discuss online privacy with my friends, the most common reply I get is: “I don’t care about it, I have nothing to hide!”. This shows how underestimated and misinterpreted the issue tends to be.

In general, indeed, free services and apps work on a quid pro quo basis: data is a valuable asset for business which can use it to design marketing campaigns and products targeting different kinds of audience, so users’ data is taken in compensation for free use of their services.

Users surfing the net are sometimes unknowingly being used as guinea pigs for software and new tech 

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And we can’t forget that, sometimes, users surfing the net, sending messages, pictures and videos, are actually unknowingly being used as guinea pigs for software and new tech.

Let’s take Allo by way of example: the new app launched by Google offers an in-chat search option, which uses artificial intelligence applied to personal messaging. When using Allo, like many other products by the Big G, people make an unwilling contribution to training Google automatic learning algorithms while, at the same time, giving up some of their privacy.

And it is the latter that will be endangered, at least in theory, according to an article published by PC Magazine a few days ago (Google Allo’s Privacy Flaws: Concerning But Not a Dealbreaker).

The debate stemmed from the fact that the app doesn’t take any measures to protect the privacy of users’ messages. Messages are unencrypted by default, unless you choose to select the “encrypted” mode, which, indeed, encrypts messages and blocks the Google Assistant.

Without the Google Assistant, though, Allo is just another messaging system like Hangouts: what use is that?

Despite the mega search engine’s servers being amongst the world’s best protected, if they were to be breached all the data collected by Google could be stolen.

The same may happen if Google were to be involved in legal proceedings: all information published via Allo – where a certain user was on a given day, or pictures sent to friends – could be used as evidence against users.

However, it’s worth noting that according to experts, stealing data from Google’s Mountain View Global HQ is practically impossible.

Thus, it seems quite unlikely that Google users could be involved in something similar to what recently happened to those relying on its competitor Yahoo.

500 million Yahoo users had had their personal data stolen in 2014

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According to the New York Times, a few days ago it was discovered that 500 million Yahoo users had had their personal data – such as their names, email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, password and security questions and answers –  stolen back in 2014. We are talking about a huge fraud – considered the biggest in history so far – reported by the American magazine Motherboard 50 days before Yahoo official statement was released.

In this case and in many others, what makes the difference between Google and its competitors, is the millions of dollars spent in cutting-edge security measures which can efficiently prevent cyber-attacks.

The privacy issue remains unsolved, but we must ask ourselves one question: how much are we willing to give up in exchange for free services?

Tweet me @AgostinelliAldo or share your opinion here.

Aldo Agostinelli