3 Sneaky Ways Your Privacy Is Being Violated (And How to Protect Yourself)
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It’s ok to admit–I won’t tell anyone.

When you install software, you probably don’t even read those terms and conditions. In fact, you’re probably so desensitized to their presence that you hardly notice them, and you see them as a hindrance keeping you away from whatever game, app or website you’re trying to enter.

Skipping past the privacy policies and terms and conditions is such a common occurrence that South Park dedicated an entire episode to pointout how much companies try to get away with.

However, recently, there have been some glaring violations of privacy that are approaching malicious behavior–and in some cases, may indeed be criminal.

Here are some things to be aware of–and how you can protect yourself.

IoT Devices

While Google made the news recently for not disclosing it included a microphone in its Alexa-enabled Nest Thermostat, the real issue is that people are starting to be concerned about where those recordings go. Alarm company Ring recently had issues when it was disclosed that the feeds from their cameras are visible by Ring employees–whether you’ve signed up for monitoring services or not.

When you’re purchasing a cloud-enabled device, that means that your data needs to go to a server somewhere for it to be processed. Before you activate it, do the research on who has access to it, and what they can do with it.

As such, many of these products may not be suitable for office use, especially if you have confidential meetings–no matter how cool they are.

Browser Plugins

There are a ton of useful scripts, add-ons and tools that work right in your browser–however, these have the potential to do some of the most harm to your computer. Once installed, an extension can run code that hijacks your browser, installs malware and does so usually undetected.

One easy way to stop this is to make sure that you only install plugins that have been updated recently, have updated Privacy Policies and a support site, and have a Content Security Policy. If not, move on.

Mobile Apps

When you’re installing applications on a mobile device, you’ll be asked to grant that app permissions for it to run properly. Some make sense–Instagram needs access to your camera and microphone. However, an increasingly large number of applications are requesting access to permissions far beyond what they need, and while safeguards are supposed to be in place to prevent applications from taking too much data, some can slip through.

To protect yourself from this, make sure you read all the permissions an app is requesting when you install it–and if something doesn’t make sense, refuse access, or don’t install it. In most cases, apps will still function normally.

And lastly, remember those Terms and Conditions we were talking about? Whenever you’re installing anything new, it helps to take at least a quick glance at them. For help understanding them better, use Tosdr.org–which summarizes any site’s T&C into an easily understood checklist.

At least this way, when you find a video of your late-night snack raid on the internet, you’ll know why!

Mar 1, 2019
John Bork and Stephanie Lynn, standing six feet apart.
John Bork and Stephanie Lynn, standing six feet apart.

Editor’s Note:Although the officialSmall Business Weekhas been postponed, we at Inc. feel it’s always appropriate to recognize the teams and companies that serve the needs of their communities and help keep Main Street humming–and not just for one week!

Sweet Spot Skirts and WellHaven Pet Health are just down the street from one another in downtown Vancouver, Washington. Until recently, location was about all they had in common.

Sweet Spot makes and sells derrière-cloaking skirts in funky colors and patterns for female bikers and runners to wear over shorts and tights.But despite owninga 12-year-old Australian shepherd, founder Stephanie Lynnhad never heard of WellHaven, a $50 million company operating 41 veterinary hospitals that employ 450 people in five states.

WellHaven founderJohn Bork was similarly unfamiliar with his neighbor.”I had seen Sweet Spot but I never used it,” Bork says. “I didn’t really know what it was.”

From the awarding of government loans to the designation of “essential” status, coronavirus frequently has set Main Street businesses at odds with larger companies. But in places like Vancouver, where a very active chamber of commerce is an enthusiastic yenta for its members, large and middle-market companies have formed surprising partnerships with mom-and-pops to fight the pandemic.

For example, when Chandelier Bakery was unable to obtain flour to fulfill all requests for bread donations for frontline workers, United Grain Corporation, among the Pacific Northwest’s largest grain exporters, supplied the wheat. Ryonet, a $50 million supplier of equipment to screen-printing businesses, not only stepped up to manufacture masks and face shields itself but has also contracted with two of its small local customers, Brainless Tees and Opake Screen Printing, to decorate them.

And in Lynn’s case,the larger companyhelped completely turn her business around. Sweet Spot does between $350,000 and $600,000 in annual revenue, much of itat sporting events. On March 12, Lynn was selling at a pickleball tournament in College Station, Texas, while thecountrywas rapidly shutting down.

“I got on the plane in Austin, and by the time I changed planes in Phoenix enough events had canceled to take $50,000 off my plate,” she says.

The next day, she was sitting with her landlord, in tears because she would not be able to make rent. The following Monday she laid off her entire staff of six.

Can you make this?

Bork, meanwhile, had approached the chamber for help. Government and industry leaders had begun asking veterinarians to donate their PPE to health-care workers who attend tohumans. Bork wanted to find a local business that could replace his surgical-grade masks and caps with something that would protect animals during procedures. The chamber quickly reached out to Sweet Spot.

The next morning, four days after Sweet Spot’s closure, Bork and his chief medical officer, Bob Lester, were at Lynn’s doorstep with a model surgical mask and cap. Lynn called in one of her seamstresses and over the next two days created prototypes from the fabric used for her skirts.

With check in hand for just over $10,000 to cover 500 masks and 500 caps,Lynn brought back her whole staff. “She would text me when she had 60 or 100 made,” Bork says. “I would walk over and fill up my backpack, bring them back to the office, box them up, and off they would go.” Sweet Spot filled the entire order in just under three weeks.

Bork ordered another 500 masks and caps, which he distributed to other veterinary hospitals in Vancouver and neighboring Portland, Oregon. With each donation, he included Lynn’s contact information.A few of those practices placed their own orders. Word spread, and other groups–Vancouver public schools, an organization of home inspectors–reached out.

With skirt orders down 90 percent, Lynn launched Facewear Fashions to go after the consumer PPE market. Those masks, with names like Pinch Me Pink Floral and Doilies for Your Face, retail for $14. (Businesses, which receive volume discounts, still account for 50 percentof mask sales.) Lynn plans to cross-promote her product lines. Buy a skirt, get a free mask made from the same material. “I match mine all the time,” she says.

The collaboration with WellHaven continues. Bork made an offer to match any donations of masks to worthy causes by other Vancouver businesses. When the Vancouver Farmers Market reopens, Sweet Spot will have a place in WellHaven’s booth.

“Had WellHaven not come about, I don’t know where I would be,” Lynn says. “They saved me completely.”

May 18, 2020

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