Digital privacy is when you can use the internet and connected devices without compromising your information. Different people have different comfort levels when it comes to digital privacy.
One person may be comfortable sharing their name, employer, home address and more on the web, while another may be uncomfortable with any of their information on the web. Digital privacy then, is when the information available online about a given person is within his or her comfort zone.
People are willingly handing over their data to social media and search companies. When you create social media profiles or post to social media, all of that information gets stored on the site’s servers. It’s not just these companies that could potentially access your information. Social media companies share your information with third parties, like Cambridge Analytica in Facebook’s case.
“We create our own digital trails that hackers and companies alike capture and use for a variety of marketing and advertisement targeting.”
Because your usage data is stored in a way that is linked to your personal details, if a hacker accesses it, you are at risk. No matter how much you trust Facebook, or Twitter, or Google with storing your information, if a third party uses it, hackers could access your information from that third party.
Privacy means that not only do other people not have unwanted access to your information, but also that you can also control what data is public and what stays private. Many services on the internet require users to consent to broad privacy policies in their entirety to use a service. This is not a user-friendly, privacy focused model.
True privacy gives users the ability to totally control their data, as far as what gets collected or publicized.
If people know their activities are being monitored, they may act differently due to that knowledge. This gives governments and other surveillance organizations control over people’s behavior. Privacy gives people power to act as they please.
“We become more cautious, more refrained in our actions, less creative — simply put, as human beings, we were not built to function like this.”
If you decide that privacy is something you care about, we recommend that you pay close attention when signing up for services on the internet. Opt for privacy-focused websites and tools rather than the popular tools that monetize your data profile.
Advertisers track you on the websites you visit to see what kinds of products and services you are interested in. They then store this information and use it to determine the ads that you see on other sites. It’s these kinds of trackers that let advertisers hyper-target their ads to very specific audiences.
Websites you visit track you for the purposes of figuring out which pages on their site are most popular and how many visitors their site gets. One popular tracker that websites use to get traffic statistics is Google Analytics. It’s a widely used analytics service and is found on most of the internet’s top websites.
Social media trackers are some of the easiest to spot, but aren’t always recognized as being trackers. One example of these trackers are Facebook ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons embedded on pages. When the button loads on the page, Facebook can see that you’ve visited the website. It then stores that information and can use it to target ads later.
Each site and tracker is different. Some sites may not store you data at all while other may store it indefinitely. Ideally, each site would have a data retention policy easily accessible on their site. This just isn’t the case. Unfortunately this information is difficult to access for most websites.
Because this information is hard to find, sometimes it’s best to just avoid the tracking in the first place.
After Facebook’s major privacy scandal earlier this year, many sites made a push to offer more transparency and control for users and their data. Facebook, and other sites, added the ability to export a file that includes all the data it stores about you. Sites are giving users more control of their own information.
You should be able to delete your data from a service, if you feel the need to. After exporting your data profile, you may feel uncomfortable with the amount of data a site has about you.
Website like Amazon can use your information to determine how much you’re willing to pay for a given product. If you fit the profile of someone who will pay more, Amazon can raise the price it offers you.
Much of the data that websites collect is used for marketing purposes. The biggest problem we see with this, is that it encourages exploiting user data. If a marketer can get value from some data, they are going to collect as much as possible and figure out how to monetize it.
Consider that every website is trying to collect your information to use for their marketing efforts. That’s an enormous amount of data collection if you consider the amount of websites you may visit in a single day.
China already uses a social credit system. This system works by monitoring citizens and using their data to determine their level of “social credit”.
Imagine that Facebook and Google get hacked and suddenly all the information they’ve collected about you becomes public. It’s easy for someone to say that a company as large as Google couldn’t be hacked. That would be ideal, but look at the Equifax hack which affected 145.5 million customers. Just because a company is respected and established does not mean they are “unhackable”.
A hacker, or group of hackers, with access to all of the data Google stores could do tremendous damage. Imagine that some one could access all of your past search terms, all of your Gmail emails and files stored on Google’s other services. This could grant a hacker access to your bank accounts and other sensitive files.
Daniel Solove is a law professor at the George Washington University Law School, the founder of TeachPrivacy, and is one of the world’s leading experts in privacy law. These are Solove’s top 10 reasons why privacy is important:
Read More:10 Reasons Why Privacy Matters
Private search engines don’t collect and store you information like big search engines do. The biggest search engines on the internet also operate some of the largest advertising networks on the internet.
Why Should You Use a Private Search Engine?
Search Encrypt is a privacy based search engine. It is built with privacy-by-design, which means it was made to emphasize user privacy. We want our private search engine to provide great search results, without compromising our user’s information. Search Encrypt helps you search the web without leaving your personal data behind.
These extensions all work differently to protect your privacy. Some block tracking scripts on websites you visit. Others, like Blur, help create and store stronger passwords. It’s important to do a bit of research before adding browser extensions. Many extensions are great and protect your privacy, but depending on the permissions you grant them, they may collect unnecessary information.
VPNs keep your IP address hidden by redirecting your internet connection through virtual networks. One thing to note about VPNs is that you should choose a reputable one. Otherwise you may just be sharing your internet behavior with another company.
Search Encrypt believes that delivering useful products on the internet is possible without sacrificing users’ privacy. Unfortunately, many of the most powerful companies in the world have made data collection and aggregation central to their business models.
If big tech companies are going to use your data to make their products more convenient, then we see the value. However, most use your information for advertising their products and to make money from your data. This is an issue. Privacy gives users control over who uses their information.
Without protecting people’s identities on the internet, companies can directly target those that are most easily influenced. This includes young children and those with little experience using the internet. If your identity is easily discoverable, businesses will determine if you match their buyer profile and target you with ads. Access to private data allows groups to heavily influence people, whether in their purchasing behavior or political perspectives.
While there are issues with people hiding their true identity online, in some cases it’s a necessity. For example, anonymous sources rely on privacy tools to keep their identities hidden. Without privacy these sources wouldn’t be willing to share the information that people need. If people don’t have to reveal their identity when speaking, they are free to speak more openly and critically, even if its against a person in power.
Algorithmic websites have “improved” their methods of predicting what you are interested in and what you will click on. As a result, you are often only presented with a tailored sample of results rather than a complete perspective.
If people believe, or know, that their online activity is being watched, they may be less likely to seek out more information outside of the norm. The result of this is more narrow sighted information and less representation from different opinions outside the mainstream.
People voicing their opinions also benefit from privacy. If someone wants to criticize someone in a position of power, they are more willing to speak honestly and openly if they know their personal safety or reputation isn’t at risk.
From a technology standpoint, user privacy is essential in making the internet and its tools more neutral and objective. A key example of how a lack of privacy effects users is in big search engines that track users to determine which results to display. While it may seem like results similar to other sites you visit may be advantageous, actually this creates a filter bubble, where you only view information that you are likely to agree with.
Citizens living under oppressive governments use privacy measures to circumvent government censorship. Under many of these governments, VPN use is illegal. However, people still use VPNs to access content that the government blocks. Not only do governments censor their internets, they use the internet as a tool for monitoring citizen behavior. Governments could potentially use data to influence public opinion and shut down opposition to the ruling party.
Privacy gives people the power to decide what they share about themselves. If larger organizations or companies decided, their own interests could conflict with the users’. We saw this in the case of Facebook sharing information with third-parties, and the uproar that came as a result.
The social boundaries that we create for in-person interactions are intentional and important. If these same boundaries aren’t established and respected on the internet, people suffer the consequences. Privacy is how these lines get drawn and how they are enforced. When these lines are crossed, companies and users struggle to regain the trust of other users and the platforms they use.