Free tool reveals the true cost of ‘free’ online services

by Micheal Quinn

Cybersecurity firm F-Secure has developed a free online tool that helps to expose the true cost of using some of the web’s most popular free services – the abundance of data that has been collected about users by Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon Alexa, Twitter, and services

The F-Secure Data Discovery Portal sends users directly to the often hard-to-locate resources provided by each service provider that allows users to review their data securely and privately. “What you do with the data collection is entirely between you and the service,” said Erka Koivunen, a chief information security officer at F-Secure. “We don’t see – and don’t want to see – your settings or your data. Our only goal is to help you find out how much of your information is out there.”

More than half of adult Facebook users (54%) adjusted how they use the site in the wake of the scandal that revealed Cambridge Analytica had collected data without users’ permission. But the biggest social network in the world continues to grow, reporting 2.3 billion monthly users and an increase of 61% in year-on-year quarterly profits and 39% in annual profits at the end of 2018.

Although Facebook faces a potential $5bn settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in the Cambridge Analytica case, critics say this is insignificant, amounting to little more than a “slap on the wrist” for a company that reported more than $15bn in revenue in the first three months of 2019.

Koivunen added: “You often hear, ‘if you’re not paying, you’re the product.’ But your data is an asset to any company, whether you’re paying for a product or not. Data enables tech companies to sell billions in ads and products, building some of the biggest businesses in the history of money.”

F-Secure said it provides the tool as part of the company’s growing focus on identity protection that secures consumers before, during, and after data breaches. By spreading awareness of these “free” services’ potential costs, the company said the Data Discovery Portal aims to make users aware that securing their data and identity is more important than ever.

A recent F-Secure survey of 400 consumers in each of nine countries, including the UK, found that 54% of internet users aged over 25 worry about someone hacking into their social media accounts. The security firm noted that data is only as secure as the companies’ networks that collect it and the passwords and tactics used to protect accounts. Although these sites’ settings are useful, they cannot eliminate the collection of data, the company said.

“Although consumers effectively volunteer this information, they should know the privacy and security implications of building accounts that hold more potential insight about our identities than we could share with our family,” said Koivunen. “All of that information could be available to a hacker through a breach or an account takeover.”

But he said there is “no silver bullet” for users when it comes to permanently locking down security or hiding it from the services they choose to use. “Default privacy settings are typically quite loose, whether you’re using a social network, apps, browsers, or any service,” said Koivunen.

“Review your settings now, if you haven’t already, and periodically afterward. And no matter what you can do, nothing stops these companies from knowing what you’re doing when you’re logged into their services.”
F-Secure recommends separating social media from private data by using separate browsers, using encrypted apps such as Signal rather than WhatsApp, using paid email services such as ProtonMail, and locking down information age, relationship status, and location.

In such a tough economy, if you own a small business, it’s hard to stay afloat and make your business unique and relevant in your community. With hundreds of thousands of people retiring and having to foreclose on their beloved businesses every single day, now is the perfect time to make those changes you’ve been considering. It may not make sense, but with such grim-looking opportunities out there, upgrading your email services, creating a streamlined website, and offering your small business’ services on the web can drive sales and keep your business from going under.

As broadband internet becomes more easily available, business owners can now choose to run online software through their browsers. The upside of this is that it can save valuable hard drive space; you can access your files anywhere because they are stored in an easily accessible server (a “cloud,” if you would) without you having to carry around any file storage mediums, like hard drives, CDs or flash drives; the files are cross-platform, which means they can be run on any operating system and through any browser; and software updates are downloaded automatically, without you having to remember to do them.

A potential downside would be if the server where your files are hosted remotely ever goes down, you are sunk. Many companies who offer remote hosting services also provide protection, sometimes financially, against such things happening. There are hundreds of thousands of options for you to choose from, from online clocks (useful for those who travel frequently; also including alarm clocks!) to sticky notes, to business schedules.

Some of these apps are designed to simulate their real-world counterparts’ look and feel, including the real cuckoo clock sounds to wake you! Other online services can include payroll management (since the fastest way to lose a business is to have the employees walkout due to not being paid), and even phone service through the internet through companies such as Vonage. Many companies charge for these services; still, others provide them for free.

Business owners who choose online software options also appreciate having the same company provide their online email solutions. But instead of choosing the largest email inbox size or the one with the best virus protection, you should look for features such as email archiving and high availability with little downtime for such pesky things as software upgrades.

Microsoft, for example, as part of its Office 365 business suite, offers 25-gigabyte email storage for each employee, as well as security protection against viruses, Trojans, worms, and other threats, all for a nominal fee. The one catch is that the email is hosted offsite by Microsoft’s servers; therefore, it does not deal directly with the IT professionals managing the servers. This may be a good thing, especially for micro-businesses, which do not always have the time or finances to deal with servers or hiring IT professionals.

While the economy today may make you feel like you are the Titanic captain, the good news is that with broadband internet, the world is, literally, your oyster. Many companies offer their email services for free or a small price each month, including nearly every service you can think of.

Email services can be through the traditional server hosted in the office or those who cannot afford the hassle through Yahoo! and Microsoft. These companies provide remote access through computers, tablets, and smartphones and attractive email storage space, archiving, and secure protection. Whatever option you choose, rest assured that your small business can become revitalized!

You may also like