LOSING OUR PRIVATE LIVES TO THE ONLINE WORLD | DATA PRIVACY MIGHT NOT BE SO PRIVATE
These days it seems our whole lives are on the internet. Socializing, entertainment and work all take place in front of a screen. But where does all this work and information go and what happens to it? We live in a time where having followers and a fan base is worth something. We are so quick to give up a level of our own privacy in exchange for notoriety, that we are not aware of the repercussions of sharing everything we can online. Data privacy, not a new term, but a term which we are becoming more aware of, is all about what we put out online and what the tech giants are actually doing with it all. Exploring our relationship and knowledge or lack of on the subject matter, lets delve into the realm of data and see why you should think twice about sharing.
WHAT IS DATA PRIVACY?
Clear and simple, data privacy is when the individual has control of when, how and the extent of their personal information is shared and used by companies. This can include ones basic information but also their online/offline activity. Our phones are filled with apps these days, and ones which talk to each other about you, without you knowing. Sharing the data, they’ve collected on you and how to influence you into either buying something or using their platform more frequently. Over the past few years, the rules on data privacy have developed to offer more protection for the public against tech companies. This action arose after Facebooks privacy scandal back in 2018 but Facebook still remains to play dirty within the social stratosphere.
One thing we all do every day without us really knowing the extent of it is accepting cookies. I even did it when researching for this article. Every second someone allows cookies but what does that even mean and what’s it’s role within the data privacy game? The pressing of the button simply means that you give companies permission to use your information as they think is necessary without the concern of legal backlash. A form of online tracking, the cookies are information collectors or girl scouts; you accept a cookie and in return they take your data. Using this, companies will build a trusted portfolio of data on you and can use it to their advantage.
Data privacy is being taken a step further through facial recognition technology. Millions of us use this technology every day, whether its passport scanning at airports, using filters and even unlocking our phones. We’re not too disconnected from such technology but it can violate human right laws if used in the wrong way. Countries such as China use this technology across their cities to identify the public, even using it against minorities. All the while Facebook can automatically tag people in photos online whilst our images online are being used for facial recognition without us even knowing.
A prime example of a privacy violation lies in the Clearview app. This app allowed strangers to take anyone’s picture and find your name, address and other information. The app used three billion images from the web without the individuals even knowing. A company that is still around, Clearview still works with facial recognition. Now known as Clearview AI, their technology has been used in Ukraine to identify Russian soldiers as well as many law enforcement agencies using the technology to ‘crack down’ on crime.
A NEW CURRENCY AND HOW IT IMPACTS OUR PRIVACY
Data is simply the reigning currency of today’s modern and technological world. Many companies are quick to access our data just as quick as we are to give our data away. Whilst some of us may have concerns over the distribution of our personal data, is it in fact a co-dependent relationship? The companies get the data they want whilst we get the content we want.
The major issue with it all is the lack of transparency. We’re spending all our money, yet we don’t actually know what we’re buying. Reported by Pew Research Center in 2019, their study showed that 79 percent of Americans are concerned about how companies are using the date they collect about them, yet 59 percent understand very little or nothing about what data companies collect. There is clearly a concern but what we lack is the knowledge for us to act accordingly when asked about allowing cookies and agreeing with terms and conditions we skim over.
THE PRIVACY PARADOX
In a world that is so digitalised we attempt to remove ourselves from our devices once in a blue moon as a way to make us feel better and to put a stop to a little tech addiction. An act that’s ironic in itself, we know the minute the detox is up we’re back on the screens. And that’s exactly how the Privacy Paradox works. It’s the idea that we say we value our privacy, but everything we do online contradicts just that. Even if you’re not taking images or sharing your thoughts on Instagram or Twitter, even when you shop, you’re telling the company your likes, dislikes, what you do during the day, availability and much more.
Many of us state we value our privacy but then post images of our food, where we go, what we buy for everyone and anyone to view. It seems in an ever-growing technological world the lines between private and public are becoming blurred. Whilst we may think we are keeping a private online/offline life, by a click of a few buttons, you’ve told companies more than enough to get an idea about you.
Within the paradox there are three categories we can fall into. The first being the privacy fundamentalist who is very privacy oriented/concerned. The second is the privacy unconcerned who isn’t privacy oriented and then the privacy pragmatists who fall in the middle of the two. Whilst many of us like to think we’re the first category, we generally fall into the other two. Whether it’s due to a lack of knowledge on the subject matter or that we truly don’t care anymore.
One thing we all value is privacy on certain information such as our medical and financial information. The exposing of such can be violating but shouldn’t we feel precious about all our information? In a survey conducted by Statista in 2021, they discovered that only 40 percent of American adults are concerned about the misuse of their online data. As companies consume more and more data on us every second, when will companies know more about us than we do? Will they know what we need before we do and when does that cross the line?
THE TRUTH ABOUT DATING APPS
One area of the online world where we share our thoughts, our likes, dislikes and lives are dating apps. Even creating a profile, you’re sharing information about yourself not only to the people also on the platform but the company itself. Whilst we may think, yeah that’s fine, they can know I studied here and my favourite band is The Killers, we’re actually sharing a lot more than we know.
A great example of the sheer size of it all is the French Journalists’ Judith Duportail experience with Tinder. What kick started her story was that she read an article about the platform’s secret desirability score. It would mark you on attractiveness and show you profiles who had a similar score. If someone with a high score liked you, you would get more points. But if someone with a lower score liked you, you would lose points. Already distasteful, the platform wouldn’t show you profiles of those who are too ‘attractive’ or too ‘ugly’ for you. Reading the article, Judith wanted to find out her desirability score, so she contacted Tinder and they said it was their intellectual property and she couldn’t have access to it.
Instead, she asked for all the data they had on her, and in response she was sent over 800 pages of information the dating app had on her. These included a range of personal details such as education, all her Tinder swipes, conversations, as well as Facebook likes, Instagram posts. This shows that apps are constantly sharing your information with each other. Taking it a step further, they even had very private data on her sexual life, they knew when she felt most lonely, vulnerable and subsequently most active on the dating app.
Since then, Tinder has said they’ve phased out the desirability score, however who’s to say they’re not doing something else similar. Could they be showing us profiles not based on radius but by matching our data. If we’ve both searched for the same pair of trainers, if we follow the same people on Instagram, if we’re both vulnerable at the same time.
The point of data privacy is that we have control of our data and more importantly own our data. It’s not necessarily for the tech giants to keep as you can ask them to revoke all your data. But with our data profiles growing constantly, is data privacy merely a façade in the 21st century. As technology continues to develop, will we start to give away more of our privacy without us really knowing? It’s an interesting topic as you have to question whether an aspect of your free will is being taken away. As the internet begins to predict ahead of time and may influence your thoughts, opinions and more across your lifetime, are coincidences no longer a thing and has the internet already decided our path?