Is the fight for online privacy unwinnable?
In the day and age where human kind has uploaded almost their entire existence up in the clouds in the hope to be identified across all platforms, few of us have snapped out of the tech bubble that our identity and personal information is actually safe. Safe is not the word used to describe discrete information available at the beck and call of others.
1 The Lie That We Are Living
If any of you have noticed a trend in the recent times that every time we are using a web service we are asked to log in with a Google account or our Facebook account, as the service more or less collects all the relevant data from here, you must have asked yourself once, “But who supervises?” To tell the truth – no one does. These services are based on algorithms that copy all and sundry information from these accounts of yours. Maybe only a few chosen fields are revealed to you, but most of the times you have to grant these services the benefit of the doubt that they will only go through the information that is absolutely relevant to the service and leave out all the rest. Unfortunately that is just the tech bubble we are living in, in a vast medium of 1’s and 0’s.
2 What Is At Stake
Think it through for once: What do you use your Facebook account for? What do you use your Google account for? Your Facebook account houses all your sensitive personal data such as your friend circles, your music likes, your recently watched movies, etc. besides photos and videos and a lot of textual, sensitive, information. Your Google account is now your personal digital assistant of sorts: you can type in your schedule, link it with most of the primary web services such as “LinkedIn” for example. All your official data is floating around in your Google account; let us not even get started on the huge chunks of data available on your Picasa web libraries, your Google Drive, and other such peripheral Google services. When you log-in somewhere using Google account all these are readily available to these services.
3 Read Between The Lines
When a few of these corporate houses that provide these services were enquired if they had any qualms about asking users to share information which was privy to the latter’s eyes only, they have all copped the same defense that these users have a choice in what information they are sharing; they do not mind sharing that data, and that data is not at any risk.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Surveys have proved that with the exception of a small percentage of users who are living under the proverbial rock, most users have a problem sharing these information tidbits just like that. They want to choose and divulge but that option is not provided, either they must bare all or share nothing at all.
4 The Resistance
The majority of America’s netizens hesitate to share information with web services but they are not left with much standing or breathing room as far as choices are concerned. Majority of these netizens are tech-savvy enough to understand the ramifications of making their information available. They are also aware of exactly what information they are sharing and what the companies in possession of the information might be capable of. It is just that beyond a certain point, the netizens feel that their efforts are futile. A section of the users of these services are unaware as to what portion of their personal information is being mined by these companies. Some are aware but beyond the point of not using the service altogether, they have no choice but to share the information and keep their fingers crossed that this never comes back to bite them!
Ninety-one percent of America’s netizens are against the fact that these corporate houses should have the former’s personal information at their beck and call just because they have a trendy discount scheme standing by. Fifty-five percent of America’s netizens are even against the fact that corporate houses should be allowed to read the subscriber’s personal information to paint a virtual picture of them, albeit in an effort improve inventory and customer experience.
5 The Bait
Majority of these information exchanges are direct consequences of the sudden boom in e-commerce. E-commerce may have long been a part of America’s net usage patterns, but it was not as commonplace before. Now A-Z of stationary goods are made available on the internet, and if the item in question is rare, the internet is all the more a resourceful place to trawl for treasure then. The situation is so hapless that a portion of these netizens are not aware that using a chain retail store’s Wi-Fi may leave their devices vulnerable to snooping around from the server side.
6 Consequential losses
The loss that US netizens face from this information siege is that their information is not ‘theirs’ anymore. Once the information exchanges hands, the fine print becomes hearsay more than something set in stone. There is little to no clause about the corporate house selling the information to a third party without the knowledge of the person in question. They are also unaware that the discount they seem to be receiving in lieu of sharing personal information righteously is NOT a discount to start with: E-commerce shops charge different people different prices for the same item based on logistics, availability and a bunch of other parameters. Even your prescription medicine purchase information is available to the third party for a price. A lot of services such as price comparison do not even have to necessarily track your purchases to tell you what you need at what price from which shop; but they do it nevertheless.
Picture this: the ads you see on Google are specific to you because Google knows what you are looking for, based on your previous search information. They do not even need to sell the data, it’s just transparent to whoever is in cahoots with them. A lot of these highbrow corporate houses have the consumers at their mercy, chucking cotton wool into their eyes while quietly siphoning of data that is essentially worth a lot, for free of cost. They do not have any legal obligation to tell you they are doing this or tell you what your personal information is worth, let alone what it shall be used for. Such is the bubble we live in.