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Are We Giving Away Too Much Online?

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

By: Olivia Tcholakian

Editor’s Note: Olivia Tcholakian is a student at Adelphi University studying Cyber Law & Ethics. She submitted this guest editorial to The Delphian.

Odds are you're giving away more information than you'd like to the apps and websites

you use. The range of effects from increased monitoring are far-reaching.

Do your standards of online privacy fit your practices? Odds are, there are probably some discrepancies in how much data you’re comfortable giving away, compared to what you actually are. Common personal boundaries and hesitations regarding online privacy don’t line up well with current privacy practices and standards. For many, there seems to be a desire for more privacy compared to what data is already being actively collected from them, with their consent.

Oftentimes, it can be easy to adopt the attitude of “I’ve got nothing to hide.” An article from PR Newswire in 2019 found that 70 percent of a surveyed group were willing to share extra personal information to online services, especially if there’s a potential benefit for them. But that relaxed mindset can lead to trusting easy passwords to protect you, allowing apps to sell some of your data, and receiving targeted ads, leaving you vulnerable to phishing and hacking.

The potential consequences are not unfounded. Due to the murky laws surrounding the protection of our information online, it can be alarmingly easy to give away more than these online sites and services need. Most likely, that apparel site doesn’t actually need your email and phone number, or that game app, your location at all times.

In 2019, “New York Times” writer Stuart Thompson published a piece testing the privacy boundaries of users. Categories like smart doorbell systems and ancestry companies were included. For many of the categories, an arguable majority of voters were uncomfortable with invasive privacy practices that are already currently in use. Ninety-eight percent of readers claimed they would not be comfortable if a social media site could know when they walked into a store based on their location data collected through their phone app, but that’s already a part of reality.

The range of effects from increased monitoring are far-reaching. On the more serious end, governments around the world are implementing different surveillance tactics to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. Isobel Hamilton’s 2020 article for “Business Insider” stated that these methods range from the U.S. collecting geolocation data from advertising companies to prevent large gatherings to South Korea tracking individuals’ movements to create an online, interactive map that lets users see where those carrying the coronavirus had been before being tested.

We can find more examples of giving up more privacy than we might’ve bargained for in some of the most recently trending apps. With the newly popular FaceApp, there was a huge scandal over the revelation of its sketchy privacy policy. In 2019, another “New York Times” article from Charlie Warzel mentioned that the app asked for “irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid, transferable sublicensable license” for the pictures of peoples’ faces.

With the current rise of TikTok, an article from a few researchers with Check Point Research in 2020 criticizes the vulnerabilities in its privacy policy. They’ve noted some of the weaknesses as allowing hackers to manipulate content on individual accounts, delete videos, change security preferences on videos and share personal information from accounts.

That ad about a new natural deodorant you saw on Facebook after just having talked about it with a friend? It may not be a physical person listening through your phone, but it is because of your online actions that you got that ad. It could be that you searched for it through some Google service, or talked about it on a different account like Instagram, which is currently owned by Facebook.

The bottom line: we’re at risk of giving too much away unwittingly. As consumers, we should try to become more aware of where and to whom we give our data, and advocate for greater transparency and awareness regarding what data of ours is being collected.

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