Why does Privacy even matter

After all, it appears the importance of privacy is declining these days. With social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, people are comfortable sharing more of their data to the public than ever before.

In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg had this to say on the subject, “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.” And while I think that’s true, I don’t think it suggests privacy isn’t important.

Individuals can choose to make as much about themselves public as they want. It’s how their data is used that becomes deceptive.

If I share my email address, work location, and personal interests with Facebook, it’s because I want my friends on the platform to have access to that information. Not because I want Facebook to sell it to companies in exchange for targeted ads. But it isn’t just Facebook that engages in this practice.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed Amazon and Google also collect huge amounts of data on their users to sell to advertisers. And it’s easy to understand why. The business of selling user data is very lucrative.

That’s why Facebook has grown into an $800 billion-dollar company without selling any hardware or premium services. And as you’ve probably heard before, if you’re not paying for a product, you likely are the product. But despite these privacy violations, we continue to use services from Facebook, Amazon and Google.

Likely because the vast majority of us don’t even know these privacy violations are happening. Typically, companies do disclose this information, but it’s often buried in their terms and conditions which very few people actually read.

In fact, your right to privacy is violated by simply browsing the web. Since your internet service provider and government agencies can see what websites you visit and are likely logging that information on their systems.

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That’s why many people, myself included, use services like VPN, blocking trackers when browsing the internet. VPNs act as a kind’ve virtual invisibility cloak that masks internet behaviour from ISPs by encrypting internet data and shielding your location from websites.

And this leads me to a question I hear a lot when arguing in support of digital privacy.

And that is, “Why should I care about privacy if I have nothing to hide?”

And the answer is, privacy isn’t about hiding something because you’ve broken the law. Privacy is about having the right to withhold information in certain circumstances to prevent misuse and misappropriation.

For example, most people prefer to keep personally identifiable information like their social security number, address, and bank information private. Not because they’re doing something bad, but because something harmful, like identity theft, could be done to them if that information were public.

And in more extreme circumstances, data has been used against citizens by totalitarian governments. From 1950 to 1990 East Germany had a so-called “security agency” that consisted of 90,000 spies and about 200,000 informants.

The agency kept detailed records on hundreds of thousands of their citizens and used this information to psychologically harass, blackmail, and discredit people who opposed the despotic regime. Keep in mind, this was all before the internet existed.

That’s why today, the system of mass surveillance happening in countries like the US is extremely dangerous. No one can predict how this information will be used by future administrations or by foreign governments who successfully steal data from the US. Which has happened, by the way.

And if you think your data is safe with corporations since they operate outside of the government, you would be mistaken. Here’s a list of twenty-one of the biggest corporate data breaches, most of which occurred in the past ten years, and affected billions of people.

S.N. Data Breach Date Impact
1. CAM4 data breach March 2020 10.88 billion records
2. Yahoo data breach 2017 October 2017 3 billion accounts
3. Aadhaar data breach March 2018 1.1 billion people
4. First American Financial Corp. data breach May 2019 885 million users
5. Verifications.io data breach February 2019 763 million users
6. Facebook data breach 2019 April 2019 540 million users
7. Yahoo data breach 2014 2014 500 million accounts
8. Marriott/Starwood data breach November 2018 500 million guests
9. Adult Friend Finder data breach October 2016 412.2 million accounts
10. MySpace data breach June 2013 360 million accounts
11. Exactis data breach June 2018 340 million people
12. Twitter data breach 2018 May 2018 330 million users
13. NetEase data breach October 2015 234 million users
14. LinkedIn data breach June 2012 165 million users
15. Dubsmash data breach December 2018 162 million users
16. Adobe data breach October 2013 152 million
17. MyFitnessPal data breach February 2018 150 million users
18. Equifax data breach September 2017 148 million people
19. eBay data breach Feb/March 2014 145 million users
20. Canva data breach May 2019 137 million users
21. Quora data breach December 2018 100 million users
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Source: Upguard

So chances are, some of your personal data is already being used by hackers to access certain accounts. But this goes further than data being leaked, it’s how data is used by corporations to infer things about you that haven’t even been shared.

For example, Target can accurately predict which of their shoppers are pregnant based on the items they buy. This led to the company accidentally exposing a teenage shopper’s pregnancy to her father by mailing coupons for baby clothes and cribs to their house.

Now I give all of these examples just to prove the ways unwanted data collection can negatively affect everyday, law-abiding people like you and me.

It’s why privacy is so important and should be taken seriously.

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