Edward Snowden once said, “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
As our world grows increasingly dependent on technology, the internet has become an unavoidable part of society. One aspect of this new digital age is, few people give much thought to their “digital privacy”. Digital privacy is different from having strong passwords and other security measures used on the internet. Instead, digital privacy is about preventing the collection and usage of your sensitive and personal information by entities for their own gain.
While you are scrolling through your Twitter feed, sharing pictures of your recent tropical vacation on Instagram, or just browsing the web, millions of tiny data points get collected by companies about who you are and what your interests are. By using these services, you are allowing them to create a digital profile that consists of all your personal data, which is continuously being refined by these websites. The information they gather includes your: name, age, gender, precise location, and browsing habits. Using this data, it is trivial to predict a great deal of personal information including but not limited to your interests, religion, political views, and health issues.
You may be inclined to believe that corporations and governments will only use your data with good intentions and is not a big deal for them to have your data. The truth is, these entities have immense power over what happens both on the internet and in the real world. This will only continue to increase as they collect more information about people. Companies can harvest your data and use it to make money by serving targeted advertisements, influencing your decisions, and in some cases, selling your information to untrustworthy companies or governments.
For the most part, targetted advertising can be useful for both companies and end users, but if not kept in check, the effects of a singular entity controlling your data can be catastrophic. The situation with the Chinese Communist Party is a prime example of the power that is achievable through mass surveillance and data collection. Their control over the data allows them to identify people who are likely to oppose the government. This gives the Chinese government an immense amount of control and leverage over people, discouraging them from protesting and stepping out of line.
Some people argue that companies own the data they collect and therefore should be allowed to use it in whatever way they see fit, regardless of whether it infringes on your digital privacy. However, there are many arguments to be made that your data is not property, rather, it is your identity, and therefore it should be one of your rights to maintain control over it.
In the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR) clearly states that it is the citizen who owns their personal data. This law requires companies to be upfront about what data is being collected and give people control over how it gets used. Unfortunately, the only similar law in the US is the California Consumer Privacy Act(CCPA), an act that, while a step in the right direction, only provides a small amount of control over personal data. One key difference between the two is that, while the CCPA allows users to opt-out of data collection, the GDPR requires users to opt-in for the companies to use their data. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of these laws and how to protect their digital privacy. The best way to address these issues is to spread awareness in the general public and enforce laws like GDPR.
If you take away one thing from this article, it should be that there is no alternative to having control of your data. You must fight to have clear and comprehensive laws regarding your data privacy and the use of your information. It is also useful to know the individual privacy policies of different companies and what they do with your data. For example, Apple is an extremely privacy-oriented company and as of late, has been introducing many features and services to ensure your data stays safe. Until the legislation is in place, it is likely in your best interest to avoid giving some of the aforementioned “untrustworthy” companies your data.
The most important thing to remember is — there is a great deal at stake when it comes to keeping your data private. Do not give up your privacy in the name of security or convenience.