May 1, 2014
Digital Privacy and the Modern World
When our fore fathers penned the Declaration of Independence and put into motion the ideals of individual liberties, the future technology and the liberties associated with technology was furthest from their minds. The world in which we live, work and play is certainly a different place from theirs. The way information is stored and shared has a new set of definitions, rules and expectations. Our rights for privacy are being redefined.
The question I set out to answer was “Is it becoming more difficult to keep personal data private?” Tracking a person’s shopping habits or online behaviors does not require the same permissions as checking ones credit. When considering the way personal data is gathered and stored, it is frightening what personal information might pop up. For example, an arrest from a person’s past may come back to haunt them even if the charges were later dropped. This personal data may be pulled up when a potential employer is researching a potential employee’s candidacy for employment. Potentially causing problems and embarrassment, despite the person’s belief the problem had been resolved. Currently there is no way to know when or why your data is being used. “Big brother” and big business are benefiting monetarily from the information we willingly and unwillingly share without our knowledge or permission. Equipping ourselves with the information to keep our information private and out of the hands of those who could do us harm. The research collected came from various articles from authorities in technology, government and security. Some of the information was surprising.
Digital privacy is often equated with things done online; yet, this data is gathered from offline sources as well. I never considered the amount of information captured offline through physical objects or shopping habits. Online and offline activity is being saved in the vaults of Big Data and is becoming the most powerful source of information ever collected in human history. Those who access and control the platforms of data mining and surveillance on the web can decide the future of your information. The U.S. government’s goal with our information is to protect against terrorism. Companies understand the data that has been extracted is currently worth over $200 billion for retailers in the U.S. alone (Childress). You do not need to be online to have companies gain access to your information going beyond what is posted online. New information is also being collected from the physical objects and the tech world refers to this as the “Internet of Things”. Those items include televisions, refrigerators, thermostats, pacemakers, roads and cars (Childress). The sensors in those objects are gathering information that is then uploaded to the web for analysis. The information gathered can be as personal as any email, Facebook post or tweet. In a recent PBS frontline article they explored how companies like Target, mine data to advertise specific marketing to customers. Target has also seen the backlash of analyzing data of purchase histories when a high school student was being sent fliers to her home with ads for baby products. The father of the student did not know his daughter was pregnant. Target later apologized and changed their mailers, making them look less conspicuous. The Federal Trade Commission has been working to keep our children safe from being targeted by ads online, however technology is moving faster than our laws and government can regulate. Advocates for consumer protection have committed to fighting for updated privacy and security. These actions have also prompted companies to find guidelines helping them to be responsible with information gathered from consumers. (Childress) In the wake of Target’s consumer information being stolen, questions are being asked about what information is collected, how much is collected, and how the information will be used. Even more concerning is the accuracy of the information having been gathered. The importance of what the companies are doing with this data and the responsibility they have to be more transparent about how that information is collected and used.
In the past year the events of the Boston showed how information sharing could be both positive and negative. The use of technology did help with the case and also brought the fugitives into custody in a fairly quick amount of time. The FBI could use photos and videos that were sent to them to help to identify the fugitives. This unfortunately also causes a modern day witch-hunt when some incorrect information was shared with the public. It is hard to pull back the wave and onset of the information being fed back into the main stream. In the article “Boston bombing manhunt and privacy in a digital world – opposite ends of our reality?” The author is very frank about his view of the current state of privacy. “I can’t do anything to change this, but now I can accept it.” He claims our state of privacy i “gone for good” and events like what occurred at the Boston Marathon will effect on the state of privacy in the future. (Notari)
Digital privacy is a very broad topic to tackle. You certainly cannot contain it to one tidy box. There is no hard and fast rule for taking on the new Wild West of the digital age and beyond. I certainly think we need to learn to educate ourselves. Know how to protect ourselves from the things we can’t control and control what information we do give out. Get involved with your local legislature to protect consumer’s information from falling into the wrong hands. The power to share and use technology can make our world a safer place.