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An immigrant’s perspective on the dangers of Internet – Part 2

In the last issue, I wrote about my experience with internet as a young immigrant, and promised to follow up in this one on the dangers of internet to immigrants unware of the potential.

I'm going to start a little bit off topic, to give you some context. A few days ago, it was reported that fishermen in Norway came across a beluga whale. Not all that odd, given Norway's geographical position. What was odd, in fact, was the whale had a Russian harness wrapped tightly around its head. Rumors started flying the beluga might've been trained for the military, and was not in the water innocently. In this particular case, the harness was an obvious indication that the beluga whale was special, and once the harness was taken off, the names on it proved where it came from.

If only the Internet were that simple. As an immigrant child, it took me a while to realize its dangers, and as an adult, I realize more and more what we are exposed to - and how little we really know about it.
This is a rather large topic, for the purposes of getting the message across, I will stick to a simple example: your phones. Whether you have an iPhone, Samsung or Google device, this applies.

Like all children that grow up and go to university, I got myself the fanciest phone - an iPhone. It was perfect: I could talk, text, check out news articles, check Facebook, do my banking, use it as maps, as a calculator, as a research tool for school, you name it. My phone could do it all - and cost me an arm and a leg to maintain. Fast forward a few years into university, and I realized having a device glued to my hand 24/7 was unhealthy, and took a year "off". Meaning, I sold my shiny phone and got a basic one with nothing other than the ability to text and call. I also cancelled my home internet and basically went back to a world circa early 2000. In the year and a half I didn't have my shiny phone nor home internet, guess what? I survived. I taught my brain how to think again, to find news other than what my phone was giving me, to do math in my head... In short, I got back to being me.

And then my author career picked up, and like it or not, it was not feasible to go everywhere with a massive laptop. So I got an iPhone again. And with a fresh set of eyes, I was able to see things that I had not before. Namely, the terms and conditions on every application I installed. The settings each one of these applications wanted to change. And all the little things in my phone they wanted access to: pictures, contacts, texts, etc. Every application that you install on your phone, your tablet, or computer, or your kids' phone/tablet/computer, collects data. This data gets used and in some cases sold to third parties so that they can learn more about you, the consumer, and thus develop things that are appealing to you. Sounds good... in theory.

Ever had the feeling your phone is listening to you? Ever wondered how google or Facebook know exactly what kind of ads to show you? It’s because they do listen. And you give them the power to do so. By installing certain applications, by not checking privacy settings, this all enables companies to gain access to your contacts, emails, etc. Of course their terms and conditions specify this.... but who ever takes the time to read it? It’s easier to scroll to the end and click “accept” than spend a few extra minutes sorting through the chaos of legal talk. And yet, in so doing, we’re giving away the keys to the kingdom - our kingdom, so to speak. Our lives. Our photos. And yes, our aspirations.

So the next time you pick an application to install? Check those terms and conditions and find out exactly who you’re letting into your life.

Ottawa /May 2019

for Observatorul, Canadian Romanian Magzaine

Alexa Whitewolf    5/28/2019


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