What is Digital Privacy
You might have definitely heard of words like Digital Privacy, Online Privacy, Internet Privacy, and Data Privacy. For the average population, it means the same thing. In technical terms, they may entail different meanings and definitions. It doesn’t matter though.
This blog post focuses on the average population of this world. We tried our best to keep it as simple as possible to understand.
It may not be a complex subject to understand, but it is quite difficult to explain.
See if the definitions and points given below makes any sense to you:
- Digital privacy refers to the protection of an individual’s private information. Almost all the websites create and use this information while you use the Internet.
- Privacy in the digital age is about protection of personal and sensitive information.
- Online privacy relates to the privacy of any information we share or submit online. It also relates to what we do online, even if we are not sharing anything or only browsing the internet.
- Digital privacy is not about everything we do online. It’s also not about every piece of information we submit or share online. It only refers to “Personally Identifiable Information (PII)” shared over public networks.
New technologies are increasing our comfort. They are making our lives a lot more convenient than before. At the same time, they are also enabling unparalleled invasions of privacy. National and international laws have yet to catch up with the evolving need for privacy.
So, what is Digital Privacy anyways?
One definition doesn’t suit all. Privacy has a different meaning and definition for different people. Some wouldn’t like to talk about their personal plans even with their friends/family. Some keep discussing it with anyone and everyone.
You share your personal information with someone in confidence because you trust them. You believe they will not share it with anyone else without your consent. If they do so, then it is a breach or invasion of privacy. In simple terms, protecting your “Personally Identifiable Information” is all about digital privacy.
Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is the information that can be used on its own or with other information to identify, contact, or locate a single person or to identify an individual. It refers to any information, which can identify an individual and their online habits and activities. For example, a combination of age and address alone can identify an individual without disclosing names. As these two factors are unique enough to identify a specific person.
The rule of PII also applies to Mass Surveillance. Usually, Government agencies conduct Surveillance activities.
Edward Snowden disclosed the extent of the NSA PRISM program in 2013. Before 2013 public debate on online privacy focused on privacy concerns with social networking services only. Later digital privacy was recognized as an issue of mass surveillance also. Edward Snowden is not in favor of mass surveillance as well. He considers this also a breach and invasion of people’s privacy.
This article focuses on the average population of this world. We will cover the topic of mass surveillance in a separate blog post. Mass surveillance affects our privacy. But, it is beyond the control of the average population. The average population is not whistle-blowers. They are also not involved in any kind of illegal activities. Thus, we don’t bother about mass surveillance unless we experience any negative consequences. We are yet to see any negative impacts of mass surveillance as an individual.
Digital Privacy – Cause of Concern?
The main concern for an average population is the misuse of their personal information without knowledge.
When you search Google, Facebook, and Amazon, they may not show you the results you want to see. They show you what you will click the most. This helps them monetize it. To show you the most relevant results, they need to know as much as possible about you. That’s what the game of free services is. There is no stopping to it as long as we keep enjoying free products and services.
These companies already know everything about you. They know:
- Who our friends & family members are.
- What is your location and address. They know this even if you are not sharing your location.
- Where we travel within and outside of the city we live in.
- Whom we talk to. In fact, they also know what we talk.
- Which movies we watch or music we listen to.
- Websites we surf including incognito or private browsing.
- What kind of information or articles you read online.
- They also know what stuff you buy. How much you are willing to pay for what.
- They also drive and manipulate the pricing of the products we buy.
All this is done using user profiling and device fingerprinting techniques.
User-profiling and Device-fingerprinting
Even if you delete cookies or clear your browser history, they can still track you. They still know who you are. When you delete cookies, they definitely lose the track of you. To avoid this problem or technical limitation, these companies found a solution. This solution is called device fingerprinting. They create your profile and your device profile also. They link your profile with your device profile. You can’t change or replace your device now and then. Right?
So even after starting fresh, based on your device fingerprinting they come to know that it’s you only. Let’s say you buy a new device. As soon as you log in to these services or apps, they find out that it’s your new device. They immediately fingerprint your new device and link it back with your profile.
It’s not only the big companies but there are all sorts of companies tracking us by all means online. All these companies add all the collected data together to create your profile. Sometimes, these trackers also act as Data Aggregators.
Imagine that what you are doing online, someone is always watching you. Unfortunately, you can’t stop it unless you change your online behavior.
Do we care about Digital Privacy?
For such a complex question, the answer is very simple. We are definitely not serious enough about our online privacy. Or we don’t bother about it until we get to know about a breach of our own privacy.
The average population may be aware of importance of information security. But, people too often place personal convenience above privacy online.
Another flaw present in our thinking about online security is the assumption that we are too small a target as individuals. The situation is even worse with individuals, who think they would never become the target for hackers. There isn’t anything to steal from them.
Should we care about our Digital Privacy?
It is slow but digital privacy is becoming a threat. A person’s personal data may slip into the wrong hands if passed around through the Web. Do you want to understand how online tracking is affecting our lives? You can go through below TEDTalk videos. You will get a fair amount of ideas about why you should care about Digital Privacy.
How GDPR and rules like these helping us?
Many consumers are not well-informed to understand how companies collect their personal data. They are usually unsure about what it is actually used for.
EU has come up with Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It has created a buzz in the last two years before it came into effect on 25th May 2018. It’s a good initiative towards protecting individuals’ privacy. It is a legal rule to be transparent to EU users about:
- Website will collect what all data
- How website will use this data.
What does Digital Privacy mean to our Kids?
Children and adolescents often use the Internet in ways that risk their privacy. This is a cause for growing concern among parents. Young people also may not realize that a website may track their information and browsing.
In 1998, the Federal Trade Commission in the USA realized the lack of digital privacy for children. They created the Children Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). COPPA limits the options which gather information from children.
Do you know that it is very simple to find some information about you online? Does your kid know about it? It’s much easier than you might think. Different Internet companies can track everything your children share via social media. The same is also applicable for searches in different browsers.
The problem is that kids enter the big online world and they want to try everything new. They share information that can fall into the wrong hands. There are so many people on the Internet pretending to be friends who can turn to be bullies or rapists as a result. Without an understanding of privacy concepts, children won’t be able to avoid potential problems.
Digital privacy is parents’ biggest concern when it comes to social media users. Teens use Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Viber to share information with people from any corner of the world. Social media has become a part of kids’ everyday life and the danger at the same time.
Essentials of Digital Parenting
With so many devices, apps, games, and content available, it’s hard to be a parent in the digital age. There always will be a cultural and technological difference between children and parents, but with a little effort, it is possible to understand the meaning of the digital world. We are sure, you understand that protection from the misuse of personal information is important. But what can you do to make sure your kids’ privacy and security?
You need to keep on educating yourself and use all the essential information you can find. Watch videos, read articles, and different guides that will help you learn everything about modern technologies and trends.
It is your responsibility as a parent is to teach your children to protect themselves. The most important thing you need to do is to explain to them what privacy is and why its violation is such a serious thing. It will help to protect your kid from misleading strangers and predatory onslaught.
Limiting the number of personal data that can be monitored is the first step to protecting your family members. Internet security is a must, so be savvy about the information you and your kids share.
It may seem obvious that you shouldn’t post risqué photos of yourself online that may be used against you in the future by admissions officers or potential employers. But even an innocent-seeming comment or the mention of your birthday can have serious effects.
Don’t believe it… try this link:
Jerome says even if users don’t read an entire policy, they should, “still take a moment before clicking ‘OK’ to consider why and with whom they’re sharing their information. A recent study suggested that individuals would give up sensitive information about themselves in exchange for homemade cookies or cleaning public toilets.
Risks of not understanding Digital Privacy?
While dealing with the issue of digital privacy, one must be concerned with the potential for implications on their real life.
One such implication, which is viewed as being one of the most daunting fears risks of the Internet, is the potential for identity theft.
It is a typical belief that larger companies and enterprises are the usual focus of identity thefts, rather than individuals, recent reports seem to show a trend opposing this belief. It was found in a 2007 “Internet Security Threat Report” that roughly ninety-three percent of “gateway” attacks were targeted at unprepared home users.
As one of the largest growing concerns average adults have of current Internet privacy policies, identity and credit theft remains a constant figure in the debate surrounding privacy online. A 1997 study by the Boston Consulting Group showed that participants of the study were most concerned about their privacy on the Internet compared to any other media.
Online users must seek to protect the information they share with online websites, including social media. In today’s Web, individuals have become the public producers of personal information. We create our own digital trails that hackers and companies alike capture and use for a variety of marketing and advertisement targeting.
Research & Analysis
A recent paper from the Rand Corporation claims “digital privacy is not the opposite of sharing – rather, it is to control over-sharing. Internet privacy concerns arise from our surrender of personal information to engage in a variety of acts, from transactions to commenting in online forums.
Some marketers have discovered that a very good proxy for a high credit score is found in people who buy furniture coasters,” says Weitzner, who was an adviser to the White House on technology and privacy and helped write the administration’s proposed privacy bill of rights.
Yes, that’s right, furniture coasters — those little felt pads you put underneath chair legs. Turns out that if you use them, you are at a better credit risk. And credit scores can be used for all sorts of things, like employment decisions and getting an apartment.
There are rules for how those scores can be used; if someone checks your credit, generally they have to get your permission to do it. But that’s not the case if they use a proxy for your credit score — like furniture coasters.
The line, “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about” is used all too often in defending surveillance overreach. Considering the full spectrum of privacy, people must ask themselves: Are you sure you are comfortable with all your characteristics in the public domain?
Lack of Awareness
All this paves the way for crucial questions we should be asking in our evolving digital age: Are we actually serious about digital privacy and security? Where are our weak spots? What more can we be doing?
- Hackers can gain access to your security questions and answers and later use this information to further hack your accounts on other services. This can lead to, among other things, complete identity theft.
- Security can be breached with the combination of attacks, social engineering or one simple vulnerability found, which means there is no place that is 100% safe for storing personal data online.
The trends of 2016 show an increasing number of cyber-attacks directed at individuals. The threat from hackers and cybercriminals has increased. There is always a risk to become a victim of cyber fraud today. Due to the study from Pew Research Center, 50% of Internet users admit they are worried about the information available about them online.
Next time you try to board a plane, watch out. Airport security might send you back because by mistake you are on a government watch list. They can also force you to open up your email in the security line.
Posting things on the Internet can be harmful or in danger of malicious attack. Some information posted on the Internet is permanent. It depends on the terms of service and privacy policies of particular services offered. This can include comments written on blogs, pictures, and Internet sites.
Employers have already started researching potential employees by searching their online behaviors.
Companies track your online behavior all the time. They use this information to send you advertising based on browsing history. They call it targeted advertising. What they tell us is that we show you more relevant ads. You may have experienced this already. They don’t show you what you wish to buy. They show you what they want to sell. How can they call it relevant?
There are many ways in which people can divulge their personal information. For instance, by use of “social media”. By sending bank and credit card information to various websites. Companies use online behavior tracking like browsing, search, or content of the Facebook profile.
Digital privacy and information security seem to be hot topics in light of recent high-profile hacking incidents. We’re learning that the information we’ve long considered safe with our favorite retailers, technology platforms, and even healthcare facilities is very much at risk.
Digital privacy centers on the fact that using digital mediums to conduct affairs, whether personal or professional, can leave digital footprints. For example, many Internet users don’t realize that information about them and their Internet usage habits are being logged and stored. A computer’s Internet Protocol (IP) address can be traced back to a specific user and, as such, his website viewing habits can be monitored.
Your data gets brokered
Many companies collect and sell consumer data that are used to profile individuals, without much control or limits. There was the famous case of companies beginning to market products to a pregnant woman before she had told others in her family, thanks to automated decision-making. The same can be true of things like sexual orientation or an illness like cancer.
Since 2014, data brokers have been having a field day in selling all the data they can scoop up from anywhere they can find it on the internet. This practice is going to increase, unfettered until privacy laws restricting such use are enacted.
Your Web searches about sensitive medical information may seem a secret. Well, it’s not. Companies like Google are creating a treasure trove of personal information. They log your online activities and make them available to any party wielding enough cash.
This information helps infer more intrusive details about an individual such as sexual orientation, political and religious views, race, substance use, intelligence, and personality.
Even without any historical behavioral data, there are a large number of insights, which can be generated by tracking onsite user interaction like postcode, name, and local address.
In late 2007, Facebook launched the Beacon program where user rental records were released to the public for friends to see. Many people were enraged by this breach of privacy, and the Lane v. Facebook Inc case ensued.
Can we stop misuse of Personal Information?
What experts say:
Danny Weitzner: he says we can never turn back the clock. None of us will ever be able to disappear. But he insists that privacy isn’t dead — at least, not his definition of privacy.
Steve Rambam: A private investigator, who specializes in Internet privacy cases. He believes that privacy no longer exists. Privacy is dead.
Bruce Schneier: Security expert has written an essay “The Value of Privacy”. He says that Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re not doing anything wrong.
Julia Angwin: No one’s ever going to tell you when they turn you down for a job that it’s because they pulled up your data broker report,” says the author of the new book Dragnet Nation. “Right now, the problem is you can’t tell when your data is being used against you, so there is this kind of feeling of fear.”
Angwin covered privacy and technology in the Wall Street Journal for years. In her book, she chronicles her attempt to erase her own digital trail and prevent it from ever being used against her. She spent thousands of dollars on gadgets and software to keep her identity secret, and hundreds of hours tracking down stashes of data about her — then begging companies to erase it.
In the end, she failed.
After spending a year doing this, I felt this is not something any normal person would do or should do, Angwin says.
You can’t stop but control it.
We can’t completely stop data collection but can control or limit it to a certain extent to protect our digital privacy.
The only way to protect our online privacy is through controlled disclosure of personal information. User profiling based on IP addresses, non-PII and similar information might become an acceptable trade-off for convenience.
Though digital privacy is an issue that remains at the forefront of many private citizens’ thoughts as they attempt to navigate the Internet and embrace new technology, official and complete protection remains out of reach. This is because the idea of privacy in a technological — and, thus, ever-evolving — landscape continues to change the meaning.
Collecting huge amounts of information about all of us and then using supercomputers to sift through, analyze and study it — this is a reality of modern life. The collection of personal information has become so ubiquitous that even staunch privacy advocates now say it’s impossible to build a protective wall around your all personal data.
With all this in mind, what are we—the average consumers—to do? Aside from becoming information security experts, is there anything we can do to actually protect ourselves online?
We don’t want a Rolodex filled with 20-digit passwords. We also don’t want to risk financial ruin. A smart middle ground is to take a few precautions to guard our most sensitive information.
There is no way to stop it in its entirety. But, you can take certain measures to control or limit it to better protect your digital privacy.
Measures and how can you change your online behavior?
It’s a separate discussion. We will talk about it in our upcoming blog post.
While you are waiting for the next blog post, we would recommend you to watch the movie “Snowden”, which is the dramatized version. You will be able to watch this with interest.
Movie details: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3774114/
If it interests you to watch a real story and not the dramatized version, then use the link: