Lately, it seems that barely a day goes by when we don’t learn about a major Internet presence taking steps to further erode users’ privacy. The companies with access to our data are tracking us in ways that make Big Brother look like a sweet little baby sister.
Typically when we hear an outcry about privacy violations, these perceived violations involve some apparently omnipotent corporation recording the websites we visit, the applications we download, the social networks we join, the mobile phones we carry, the text messages we send and receive, the places we go, the people we’re with, the things we like and dislike, and so on.
How do they do this? By offering us free stuff to consume online and infrastructure for the online communities that tie us together. We gobble up their technologies, download their programs, use their services, and mindlessly click “I Agree” to terms and conditions we haven’t bothered to read.
What’s the point of all this? Sales, marketers, advertisers, other businesses benefit from knowing every last detail about you—the “33 bits of information” necessary to pin down your identity—in order to deliver precisely targeted advertisements to your digital device of choice, whether that’s a computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Should we care? What is the potential danger? “Back in the day,” examples might include telemarketers abusing your phone number by calling incessantly, or direct marketers filling your mailbox with junk mail.
Today, it’s spammers sending unwanted emails, or the same advertisement from the same company popping up again and again on every single website you visit. The concern is that this could go from annoying to frightening.
Privacy advocates are working to prevent the worst and most extreme outcomes of personal data collection. They know that without checks and balances, without consumers knowing their rights and actively protecting their own privacy and personal data, that data could be used unethically.
Privacy is your right. But realize that in our wired, interconnected world, privacy only really consists of what you say and do within your own home, legally, with the shades pulled down, between you and your loved ones, that is not communicated, recorded, broadcast, or reproduced on the Internet or any public forum in any way. Beyond that, especially when taking advantage of various online resources, be sure that you know what it is you’re agreeing to and take precautions to protect yourself.
Saturday, January 28th is Data Privacy Day which promotes awareness about the many ways personal information is collected, stored, used, and shared, and education about privacy practices that will enable individuals to protect their personal information. This is a good time to check your privacy settings on social networking and other sites you use, ensure you have a strong password and be aware of where and with whom you are sharing your personal data with.