Data Privacy and Mailing Hard Drives

Thanks to an affinity for films like Minority Report, Enemy of the State, and Anon, I take my data privacy seriously. Do you?

Data Privacy and Mailing Hard Drives
Photo by Matthew Henry / Unsplash

Thanks to an affinity for films like Minority Report, Enemy of the State, and Anon, I take my data privacy seriously. I hide my email address and routinely edit my Twitter interests and Facebook ad preferences to make it more difficult for advertisers to summarize my actual interests. As a result, I get ads for strange things like the “pillow” pictured below.

Source: Facebook Ad
Source: Facebook Ad

Despite my adamant digital security, I did something unthinkable to fellow privacy nerds last week: I sent a digital backup drive containing personal information to a virtual stranger.

Let me back up a bit. I sold my PS4 for a hefty sum of money in late December. Before trading, I backed up the console’s hard drive to keep my game saves when I eventually purchased a PS5. Despite being prudent, I failed to realize a PS5 cannot read a PS4 backup. Instead of backing up the entire drive, I should have saved the individual game saves to a USB drive (or PS+).

A few weeks ago, I purchased a PS5 during an online inventory drop. When the device arrived, I realized my mistake. Instead of giving up, I began looking for options. A fellow writer I’ve connected with a few times digitally announced on Twitter that they were selling a PS4. I took a shot and sent a message requesting they restore my console backup and extract my game saves.

As I write this, roughly 250 GB of personal information is en route to a stranger’s home a thousand miles away. Will it work? I hope so.

Ironically, today is Data Privacy Day. While I highly don’t recommend you randomly send hard drives with personal data to strangers, it is a reminder that we should keep an eye on who has our data.

Even if you don’t knowingly send hard drives of data to strangers, you’re giving personal information away with every website interaction. I don’t run ads and don’t care what you do online, but my website and newsletter still spy on you despite doing everything possible to limit the data collected. I’m likely a very small fraction of the online interactions you’ll have today, too.

Use email obfuscation services like Apple’s Hide My Email or 33Mail, keep your passwords secure and varied, and don’t be afraid to clear out your cookies.

What steps do you take to ensure online privacy and data security?

Justin Cox Justin Cox

Justin Cox is a donut-loving, word-writing, nonprofit consultant based in Orlando. He also runs The Writing Cooperative on Medium. Come say hello!