Is Online Privacy Dead?

By Roger Murray | July 7th, 2017

Privacy…we all talk about it and we’re all concerned with losing it, but does it really matter?  There are 1.94 billion active monthly Facebook users, 3.5 billion daily Google searches, and over 95 million photos & videos shared on Instagram each day.  These are a few examples of the many apps, fun quizzes & surveys, or even online purchases, we conduct while granting third party access to our information in exchange to use.  What many fail to realize is that your privacy is the currency being traded to have these innovations at your fingertips. Which is why I feel that we’ve reached a pivotal point where privacy the way we understand it is pretty much lost. Your information is out there regardless of how hard you demand complete anonymity.  In fact, despite the calls for increased discretion, I feel we will continue to move toward even more openness, and here’s why…

Terms & Conditions Apply

According to an EMC Privacy Index study that involved over 15K participants across the globe, nearly 51% of respondents said they would be unwilling to trade some privacy in order to have greater convenience & ease.  Yet, what many do not realize is that they are already granting access every single day. When you install a free web browser, email, social media account, stream a video, or even use a purchased device like an iPhone, you can almost guarantee there are legal agreements and/or terms & conditions you must accept prior to using.  Rarely do we spend time reading this information, which is what most organizations rely on really.

Take a recent press release from Google that made headlines for what appeared to be a step in the right direction for consumer privacy.  Their free Gmail product will no longer mine your emails to personalize advertising.  Now consider just for a moment, how many users were likely unaware their emails were being scanned in the first place.  Further, ponder why the decision was made to stop. Google’s ever-expanding portfolio of products were not mentioned in the release, so it is fair to say that a more effective method for acquiring data was determined. A few examples which come to mind are users who remain logged into their Google account while browsing the web, conducting searches, making purchases, or go through their social feeds.

Smart Devices? Think Data Collection…

Take the growing popularity for the Internet of Things (IOT), products like Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and countless others, are experiencing incredible consumer adoption rates.  These connected devices are precisely the type of convenience respondents were so unwilling to barter their privacy away for. Smart devices and digital assistants are only as effective as the amount of data they have stored to query from.  Information such as user travel patterns, dialects, previous searches, purchase history, as well as any other behavioral transactions input into these devices are collected. The public position promotes building predictive algorithms that are more competently responsive to your request. Details pertaining to the length of time your activity is stored however, remain intentionally opaque, leaving many wondering just what the corporations know about us.

So What Are The Choices?

It may seem at times that there are only two choices.  Either accepting the status quo of privacy being obsolete, or continue to fight for privacy and security.  The problem with the second option is that it is a bit paradoxical to think that we can have social technologies, require corporations to provide complete transparency, and be allowed to accept terms & conditions with the notion that corporations will keep your best interest in mind, all at no cost or providing anything in return.

The fact is that we have reached the point where our daily lives have become interconnected with these conveniences.  Can anyone really say they are willing to delete their social media profiles, no longer use Google when they have a question, ditch their mobile device, or stop buying items online? Of course not, nor should they feel compelled to do so. Businesses are not inherently evil for collecting data, it’s how they thrive in an increasingly complex global market.  The real question is whether we unknowingly gave up our privacy to have these technological marvels, or if we were we a willing participant all along.

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