Privacy: the quality or state of being apart from company or observation, the freedom from unauthorized intrusion (merriam-webster, 2020). Our digital privacy follows this same definition, but is centered around the data that we both knowingly and unknowingly generate and share. Our increasing utilization of technology in all aspects of our lives is constantly providing more access to our data. We hear a lot about data in the news, but what is your data? Where does your data come from? And most importantly, why should you care about your data and digital privacy?
Data is an umbrella term that can mean different things depending on the context. In a technical sense, data is any digital information that is generated, processed, collected or stored by a computer system. Data today can take many forms: files, documents, photos, audio, video, information added to or generated from computer programs and algorithms, location data, voice, power usage and general usage information.
If you use modern technology, your data is coming from you, everywhere. No really, you're generating data every second of the day, whether you are actively using your device(s), internet or apps. You're even producing data while you sleep. Like it or not, you are a walking data producing machine. For this example, we will explore a fictitious average day as someone who moderately uses technology in the United States (pre-Covid). Also in this example, let's consider you also use social media apps on your phone, and you've allowed all their requested permissions (microphone, location, etc) without any further privacy restrictions.
This is just a simple example of how much data the average person can generate on a given day. In reality, the true picture is even bigger. You are giving away more personal data than what is depicted above. With our increasing usage of technology, each new device, application, smart device we add to our lives, our digital footprint and the amount of data we're producing and giving away is getting exponentially larger each day.
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On the surface, you may perceive the importance of your privacy as nominal. It's easy to think of privacy as being some intangible nice-to-have. Often, when I first speak to someone on the topic of their privacy, the response that I get is that, "I don't have anything to hide". This could not be farther from the truth. As we learned in the timeline above, you're generating an impressive amount of data, day-in and day-out. Moreover, that data is being sent to multiple sources, most of which are hidden to you and all with different levels of security and policies with how they handle, process, analyze and monetize your data.
The following are some immediate risks you could face if your private information was to get into the wrong hands:
Some points from the list above were inspired by Teachprivacy.com.
Your privacy, or the lack thereof, has the biggest implications when we look at it from a long-term perspective. The items we identified above are problems without a doubt, but what we're going to discuss here could have generational implications.
As we learned earlier, you are hemorrhaging data. Literally every aspect of your life, companies like Facebook, Google and others have been building complex profiles about you. They may even understand you, your preferences, likes, dislikes, habits and so on, better than you even understand yourself.
We are quickly heading toward the age of Artificial intelligence (AI). AI is capable of doing amazing things. Current examples range from Tesla's self-driving cars to your personal assistant on your phone (Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant). There is an important factor that makes AI work, and this is data. AI needs data, and lots of it, to learn and work properly. You, the data producing machine, are giving every possible preference, thought processes, health data, and more to an increasing number of companies and their partners.
As time goes on, AI will only become more prevalent, advanced and will be integrated into every aspect of life. You may still be thinking, "I don't have anything to hide"; let's change that. If not now, AI will soon be able to model your health, genetics (personal and familial) and combine them with your environmental factors and preferences. These models will be able to access risk and determine your potential life issues and provide information to companies and governments. Imagine if a company would be able to review your life profile when you're seeking employment and be able to discriminate against you because you would cost the company more money than someone else. Or if you were denied insurance, or any type of opportunity or coverage, based on your risk score.
It's important to note that in today's world there are protections in place such as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to protect your health records. Acts such as Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) are in place to protect us from being discriminated against based on our genetics. However, these protections will only apply when you give your data to companies through the proper channels. Many of the same classifications and determinations can be derived based on your (and your family's) web searches, health information, conversations, and a countless number of ways that are not protected, as we've discussed previously.
"We need to be proactive about our privacy, because technology will always advance faster than the government will be able to enact protections via laws and regulations."
- Christopher W Huziak
CEO & Founder of Final Security
The real and biggest issue of privacy is in the long term. While these issues may not affect you during your life, it is likely possible that not caring about your privacy now could impact your loved ones, children, their children and even more generations to come.
I don't think we're past the point of no return. We still have time to right the ship. Protecting our privacy will never be perfect, and will never be 100%. Privacy and what it will take to protect your privacy, will change and evolve over-time. As long as we use technology, we will need to be concerned about our privacy. We need to be proactive about our privacy, because technology will always advance faster than the government will be able to enact protections via laws and regulations.
Awareness is key to understanding everything in life. If you do not know about something and why it is important, why would you spend the mental energy to care about it.
Privacy is important, and it needs to matter to you. If not for you, for your loved ones and your future generations.
Definition of PRIVACY. (2020). From: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/privacy
10 Reasons Why Privacy Matters - TeachPrivacy. (2014). From: https://teachprivacy.com/10-reasons-privacy-matters/
According to AARP, it can take six months for financial institutions, credit-reporting bureaus and the Social Security Administration to receive, share or register death records. When you consider that timeframe and that cybercrime is now more profitable than the global illegal drug trade, your digital estate is the perfect target for criminals. We need to protect and organize our digital lives in preparation of our digital death.
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