The Value of a $10 Gift Card

By Larry Darnell, FDA Director of Information Systems

In light of Facebook’s personal data issues several months ago, there are more things out there that we never even think twice about. What about the innocent looking email that asks you to fill out a simple survey for a $10 gift card or perhaps a chance to win a larger prize? Most people never give those a second thought. You fill out that survey and even if you use a throwaway email address (with so many free email services, you can create one that you hardly ever check and use for just such an occasion), you still provide valuable data to the company or the people who sponsored the survey. The value of your personal information is much higher than you think.

There’s already so much data mining (personal data compiled into a profile about you) going on. One day my wife and I were talking about backpacks for a trip; the next day my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Amazon shopping feeds were flooded with ads related to backpacks. So, who gave them that information? I never Googled it. Alexa heard me and so did Siri. Talk about Big Brother listening to me! I wanted to break out the tinfoil hats and go off the grid for a while.

We provide so much personal information when we use the internet, smartphones and tablets, and don’t even realize it. Facebook didn’t even have to try very hard. Several quizzes about which Kardashian you resemble and we have given up a lot of our personal information for free. So, what are we to do in the aftermath of this?

Here are five things to remember:

  1. Guard your personal information. There’s no need to give it away for nothing, and trust me, $10 is a bargain for your personal data. Are those $10 gift cards worth the risk?
  2. Never assume there are private communications on a public internet. Anything you put on the internet (social media, email, etc.) can and will be seen, heard and shared with others. This includes Snapchat and other sites that say they are “secure.”
  3. Use all security measures that are afforded to you by the devices you use. If that means encrypted emails or a virtual private network, then use them. Be careful about using open Wi-Fi (a password isn’t required to use it). Nothing is free, and although open Wi-Fi may appear free, it could cost you greatly in the end.
  4. Keep a tight rein on your personal brand. If that means regular credit bureau checks, services that monitor “risky” websites for your data or even staying off social media altogether, then do what is necessary to protect yourself. Once your identity is stolen, it’s nearly impossible to get it back.
  5. Treat your virtual world like you would your real world. If you would not do or say something face to face, in person, then why do it in a virtual world? If a stranger showed up at your door asking a slew of questions, you’d probably slam the door in their face. On the internet, we give them what they want and more.

Bonus tip: The next time you install an application on your smartphone, visit a website or use software on your computer, take a moment and read the terms and conditions that you blindly click to accept. You’ll be shocked by what you are agreeing to without even considering the consequences.

This article first appeared in Today’s FDA, July/August 2018, Vol. 30, No. 5.