by Nikita Senthil | May 19, 2020
How many times have you submitted your credit card information online last month? Have you posted on social media? Each time you release this personal information into the so-called cyberspace, you no longer have much—if any—control over what happens to it. Now, before you rush to clear your search history, delete all your cookies, and swear off technology forever, here are a few things you should know.
Online data privacy is a subject everyone should be informed about: a single breach has the potential to alter millions of lives. Such incidents have occurred in the past, and they will certainly continue in the future. A prime example is the series of Facebook’s privacy breaches reported in the past two years. In March 2018, reports revealed that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvested, or illegally accessed, private information from 87 million Facebook users.
Cambridge Analytica was previously involved in numerous political campaigns, including the 2016 United States presidential election. The firm claimed to be able to create personality, or psychographic, Facebook profiles for a large number of voters. Using these profiles based on factors such as agreeableness, extroversion, and neuroticism, the firm catered political ads towards users in an attempt to influence the election. Amidst the chaos that followed this announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress to defend his company against allegations of spreading disinformation and violating user privacy.
Later in 2018, an independent app developer sued Facebook for allegedly favoring some companies over others. In response, a British lawmaker released over 200 pages of documentation from the lawsuit, revealing discussions between Zuckerberg and his team about profiting from user data and negotiating with several other companies to allow them user data access.
Over the next year and a half, more disturbing revelations continued to surface: over 6.8 million people’s private pictures were leaked, and Facebook allegedly favored ads that discriminated against minority groups. This barrage of horrifying incidents served to emphasize the many problems that exist today regarding data privacy. Even the most secure platforms cannot guarantee complete privacy for your data.
It is fundamental for us teens to be aware of these issues to effectively protect ourselves. During shelter-in-place, it is especially tempting to turn to the internet to pass time. However, one should always remember that once personal information is submitted, there is no way to know in whose hands it will land.
Lawmakers have recognized the devastating effects of continued breaches of data privacy and attempted to address these issues on a local and federal scale. In reference to the Facebook scandals, Senator Mark Warner, an outspoken critic of Facebook, affirmed, “This is another sobering indicator that Congress needs to step up and take action to protect the privacy and security of social media users.”
Federal laws such as the Financial Services Modernization Act, which requires financial firms to disclose how they collect, use, and reveal personal information, are constantly amended and enforced to combat this very issue. However, for each of these loopholes journalists and governments close, more are discovered by interested third parties and hackers.
Individuals and private organizations can help spread awareness about online data privacy and how to best protect it. An excellent example is the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom, which first observed Choose Privacy Week in 2010. Choose Privacy Week is a campaign for libraries to educate their users on the human right to privacy and launch a global conversation on data privacy in the 21st century. A few years ago, the initiative was rebranded as Choose Privacy Every Day, further emphasizing the significance of choosing privacy every single day to protect both ourselves and our futures. In light of the disturbing data privacy violations that have occurred in the past, it is crucial to support initiatives such as Choose Privacy Every Day and spread awareness, especially in the teen population.