6 Ways We All Contribute to the Erosion of Privacy

Erosion of Privacy

In late December 2013, the United Nations adopted a resolution called “The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age.” The resolution reaffirms what we've already been promised: privacy protection through Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Is Privacy Really Protected?

All signs point to no. Recall the highly publicized data breaches of 2014: Hackers swindled credit and debit card information from 350,000 Neiman Marcus shoppers, 2.5 million Michaels customers, and 40 million Target credit card holders. These weren't the only data breaches suffered by society, of course, but they were some of the most publicized.

Sadly, a recent Pew report confirms the wide-held fear that individual privacy is withering away. By 2025, it could vanish completely. Who's to blame? Truth be told, we all play a role in the death of online privacy.

Consider These Six Ways We, The People, Contribute To Its Slow Demise

1. We exchange data for services

Have you ever given your email to a retailer in exchange for a coupon or subscribed to a store's mobile app in order to nab a deal? If so, you've given your data to another person or entity in exchange for a “service.” As time wears on, a growing number of data miners will wrap their hands around this data and use it to their advantage. The result: Privacy erodes.

2. We blindly agree to terms and conditions

Did you know that the folks at Facebook monitor the posts you publicize and the posts that you delete? They also track your web searches when you're logged into the site – even if you're not actively Facebooking. Plenty of people agree to site terms and conditions without truly understanding – or even reading - them first. Unfortunately, the mentality that “everyone does it; it must be OK” gives us permission. And, as American Civil Liberties Union privacy advocate Chris Calabrese says, people often “mistake a privacy policy for meaning that they have privacy.”

3. We share our real name and/or email address online

Have you ever sought medical information from a website or online health support group? That information now permanently rests on a hard drive where another person or entity could feasibly draw conclusions about your private health. Have you ever made a purchase online? Commented on a political forum? Participated in an online dating service? Browsed the web? The list of ways we innocently expose ourselves to data vulnerability goes on and on.

4. We own a plethora of devices

In fact, we own such a large variety of devices that we don't often realize who's taking advantage of us. Microsoft manager Victor Bahl says that says that the large variety of “form-factor devices” we use deludes us into a sense of anonymity. In reality, however, we're not anonymous at all, and our personal data is a salable product worth its weight in gold. Smartphones, tablets, e-readers, laptops – pick your poison.

5. We feel compelled to share

If you're not forthcoming with your personal information, could that suggest that you're secretly a terrorist, a sexual predator, or a criminal of another sort? Ebeneezer Bowles of Corndancer.com predicts that as time marches on, an increasing number of people will fall prey to a “What have you got to hide?” mentality. This mentality will peer-pressure you, your friends, and your offspring into sharing everything. After all, if you're not willing to share, you could be guilty of something.

6. We're forgetting what privacy means

According to technology forecaster Paul Saffo, Americans have “happily sacrificed their privacy... and will continue to do so, even as they complain.” Indeed, as personal information becomes increasingly public, we lose sight of the definition of good old-fashioned privacy. Today's children will have a different concept of privacy than what our grandparents and parents taught us. As generations continue to cycle, this slow metamorphosis will cause privacy's demise.

We Can't Control it All

Certain aspects of privacy erosion seem out of our control. After all, it's tough to eliminate data-tracking cookies when you can't see them. It's difficult to minimize your data trail when you're assaulted from every angle – GPS tracking, click-stream analytics, hidden security cameras.

Obama's “Do Not Track” proposal of 2012 gave us a glimmer of hope. Unfortunately, the idea died even as politicians squabbled to agree on how to enact it. In fact, the Associated Press tells us that data collected by Obamacare's mother site, healthcare.gov, shared insurance applicants' personal data (income, habits, zip code) with third parties. Even applicants who selected a “Do Not Track” option were violated.

Like an ice cube in the sun, personal privacy is melting away. No one knows quite how to solve the problem, either, and that's frustrating. After all, we're a society accustomed to actionable solutions. If you need to lose weight, you diet and exercise. If you need to buy a car, you secure a loan.

Nobody has clear-cut answers to this yet. For now, it's wise to keep abreast of the changes and keep a proactive mindset. Oh, and change your passwords often.

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