Why Should I Care About My Privacy?

Why Should I Care About My Privacy

Is online privacy a topic we should be concerned about? If so, why?

Privacy is a topic that needs to be talked about. Nowadays more than ever.

And it's a complex topic.

Privacy is a hot-button issue. There is a raging war today for the personal data of the average consumer, and a Maginot line has been clearly drawn by the antagonists. On one side are marketers, advertisers, and Internet and data companies, who want unfettered access to as much personal information as possible. On the other side are consumer advocates, privacy purists and think tanks that want to limit or disallow commercial access to personal data, altogether. In the middle are consumers, who mostly want to keep getting as much free online stuff as possible, but who are clueless about the consequences. (Adonis Hoffman)

In this article, we'll go over some aspects of privacy along with a couple of reasons why people care about their privacy.


What is privacy?

Privacy refers to the rights you have to manage your personal information and how it is used if you share it with other entities or if it gets collected while surfing online.

Noticed those privacy policies you're asked to agree to when you're registering for an online account or when you download an app on your device? Well, in the privacy policy the company you're interacting with states what type of personal information they log about you and what they are allowed to do with all the information they gather.

Another example of actions related to online privacy is the browsers, such as Chrome, keeping logs of your online activity, tracking information such as your browsing history, location, and devices used.

A simple, yet powerful definition of privacy from Privacy International states:

"Privacy is a fundamental right, essential to autonomy and the protection of human dignity, serving as the foundation upon which many other human rights are built."

This statement is genuine for both our privacy in the real world and the digital world. It is essential to who we are as it gives us the freedom to express ourselves without judgment and to control who knows what about us.

While technology made it easier than ever to protect our privacy, the methods for others to tracking our activities have also increased. Nowadays, companies and the government are able to monitor all our conversations, online transactions, and all the locations we've been at. Gathering enough data gives entities the possibility of learning about our past, how we think, and even to predict our future actions. Doing so can not only affect our perception about society and the market, but can also result in our personal information being exploited, and not necessary for the good.

The biggest challenge when it comes to privacy? You're not always aware that your privacy might be compromised.

Not only the internet is full of websites, apps, and software that are trying to hide the fact that they are collecting private information. But how many times have you clicked to agree to a privacy policy you haven't actually read? Most of the time, we are not even aware of what permissions we give companies regarding our private data, a mistake that could lead to terrible results.

Browser fingerprinting is all the identification information collected about a device. Fingerprints are used to identify individual users even in scenarios when cookies aren't stored, the IP address is hidden, or multiple web browsers are used on the same device.

Its main purpose is to prevent credit card fraud and identity theft. Even so, the practice of creating detailed records about users' browsing histories without their knowledge and when they are trying to avoid being tracked, raises significant concerns for online privacy. You might think people don't care much about their online privacy. And this is understandable given that, most of the time, you don't really hear your friends and family are being worried about the privacy they have when browsing online.

But even if those surrounding you don't seem concerned about the online privacy topic, it doesn't mean privacy isn't a big deal. And this awareness is slowly becoming general knowledge, with more and more people starting to be conscious of the dangers and risks you are facing in the digital world. And these risks are neither few nor to be ignored.

In fact, studies show that 7 out of 10 Americans are taking action towards protecting their online privacy more today than one year ago.

The rise of the awareness regarding internet privacy might have a lot to do with the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and the increase in online fraud.

One thing is certain, lots of users are taking action to protect their internet privacy and private information, ceasing to rely on companies to do it for them.


Reasons for maintaining your privacy

YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER HOW YOUR DATA IS BEING USED

Do you think the companies and services you provide personal information to will keep your data private and you are in total control of what happens with it?

Then, you might've not read the Terms and Conditions upon registration.

There are indeed services that will misuse your personal information even though you don't give your consent, but most companies clearly state in their Terms you agree on that they are entitled to sell your data or use it some other way. But who really reads the Terms and Conditions nowadays?

For example, Google can share your personal information with other parties and use your content for all their existing or future services. And, did you know that Facebook can use your identity in ads that are shown to others and license your content to third parties?

You can see a summary of the terms on major platforms on Terms of Service; Didn't Read. They also have a browser extension that allows you to quickly check the terms of the website you're browsing. Quite useful to make you aware of what you agree on when you're registering for a service.

YOUR DATA EQUALS BIG MONEY

We used to think that the only way to pay for something was by using actual money in exchange for a service or product. In the digital world though, the most common currency has become our own private information. Companies offer us services in exchange for some piece of our personal data so they can build detailed profiles of our online behavior, our interests, and search history they will further sell to advertising companies.

THERE'S A COMPLEX DIGITAL PROFILE OF YOU

No click, no visit, no purchase, no like - none of these are forgotten. Each small action you do when you're online is stored somewhere.

We talked about how important your information is to companies because it allows them to increase their revenues. This means that companies create some complex profiles of you and your life: who you are, where you're from, where you've been, what you like, what you purchased, who you're friends with - everything.

Think about Google for a moment. If you use Google products, they have access to your entire activity. They know where you are each moment of the day. Who you're exchanging emails with (and what you talk about), what you search for on the internet. I won't go on, you get it.

AND THERE'S ALSO FINGERPRINTING

Browser fingerprinting is all the identification information collected about a device. Fingerprints are used to identify individual users even in scenarios when cookies aren't stored, the IP address is hidden, or multiple web browsers are used on the same device.

Its main purpose is to prevent credit card fraud and identity theft. Even so, the practice of creating detailed records about users' browsing histories without their knowledge and when they are trying to avoid being tracked, raises significant concerns for online privacy.


Is being conscious about your privacy means you're paranoid?

If you've ever talked about with those around you about privacy, you might've noticed that people who don't give a dime about their privacy tend to say about those who are concerned that they are paranoid.

What fuels this thinking is the fact that our data is not necessary misused. It can be misused by hackers, but that's another story. Companies are using collected data to learn more about us so they can sell us more. So no direct harm.

But not everyone is comfortable with sharing all the aspects of their lives with tons of other eyes, even if those eyes have no intention to cause actual harm.

Being concerned about your privacy does not mean you think anyone is after you, it means that you are not comfortable with your private life becoming public knowledge. It does not mean that you think an employee from the government tracks your activity nonstop.

It's true that this concern can turn to constant paranoia about companies and governments spying on you specifically, but that's the extreme.

Caring about privacy is not the same as putting the tinfoil hat on. If someone tells you you're being paranoid because you're making efforts to maintain your privacy, embrace it. You're one step ahead.


But I've got nothing to hide

What's the most common reason why people don't care if their data is being collected?

They have nothing to hide.

You know, most of the people that make efforts to keep their online activity private have nothing to hide either. Criminals are not the only ones that want privacy. You don't need to have something to hide in order to hide something.

To quote Edward Snowden:

"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."

And, after all, caring about your privacy doesn't hurt you. It doesn't prevent you from enjoying your life. It just means you are taking preventive measures.

I think the biggest problem when it comes to privacy is that many people are not actually aware of how much data they share every time they are connecting to the internet. Knowledge is power. The more you understand how data is being collected and how it is used, the less power it has over you.

Will people try to enhance their privacy in the future?

There's no right and easy answer. Some will, and some won't. In return for their data, people receive free services that make their lives easier and more convenient, so it's fair to assume that lots of people will keep preferring to hand out their information rather than to stop using free services and products.

Even if you're one that's not ready to give up the commodity just yet, you should at least try to be conscious about the data you allow to be collected and used.

If you're wondering what are the first steps towards improved online privacy, here is a handy checklist:

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