Connected…But at what price?

By Apsara Senaratne

In 2018, millions of people scroll through their social media feeds, send countless messages, and share thousands of intimate personal details on “private” social accounts, all strikingly aware of the fact that, by engaging in such frantic online socialising, they are compromising their privacy.

Even after Facebook’s co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, apologized for “Facebook’s role in false news, data privacy leaks, and foreign interference in elections,” according to the New York Times, and even after his testimony on Capitol Hill revealed that “the data of up to 87 million Facebook users was improperly harvested by a British political consulting firm,” we continue to willingly sacrifice our online privacy and safety for the ability to interact with others online.

That is all because, the truth is, these privacy breaches no longer faze us.

We live in a world in which online communication is the most important form of connection. According to The Verge, social networking apps Messenger and WhatsApp process 60 billion messages a day, three times more than SMS. Our heightened use of app-to-app messaging indicates just how oblivious we are to how our personal information is used.

We are caught by surprise when we find that our actions become metadata for marketing, that our Google searches haunt us in the form of ads, that our e-mails are harvested for advertising. We are somehow horrified when we learn that personal details such as race and political viewpoints are used to include us in or exclude us from advertising. Yet, even with this knowledge, we quickly turn back to our devices, allowing Google and Facebook to store information that, inevitably, ends up in the hands of mass marketers or organizations such as the FBI.

Ironically, according to a Pew Research Poll, most of us claim that personal control matters. Seventy four percent of Americans say that it is “very important to them that they can be in control of who can get information about them,” and 65% say that it is “very important to them to control what information is collected about them.”

If we truly care about our control of personal information, why do we continue to allow marketers and the like to so easily obtain it?

We do this because we believe that there will be minimal consequences as a result of our actions, if any. Our desire to be connected overpowers our concern for our privacy, and we reason that sacrificing our privacy is necessary (and fairly “safe”) if we are to be part of the online world.

This is the reasoning that advertisers take advantage of – every bit of online data processed through our actions within an app is used to improve a company’s net income, and we have no choice in the matter.

However, there are some steps that can be taken in order to improve your control over what information gets out, and to whom.

Using long, unique passwords with double-verification, answering security questions with modified information, and using apps with limited data collection and message encryption are some viable methods of protecting your information. Additionally, being less active on social media sites, reconsidering certain apps’ access to contacts, photos, and location data, and backing up files on an external hard drive ensures that marketers can less easily take advantage of personal details.

Most importantly, however, we must reconsider our understanding that connection is more important than our personal privacy and safety.

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