Seemingly every day on the internet, there’s another bad news story or scandal about data privacy.
Sometimes it’s a major retail store losing the details of its customers. Sometimes, a social media giant is exposed as having yet another flaw in its security and data protection measures.
On other occasions, we’re even told that an entire global company – Huawei, for example – are using their technology to spy on people deliberately. Whether you believe that the private electronic data of individuals finds its way into the wrong hands by accident or by design, we can at least all admit that it’s happening far more often than it should.
Because news of data leaks and data loss is so frequent, it can be easy to react to news on the topic with a roll of the eyes and a weary sigh. By this point, a lot of us figure that so much of our data is already publicly available that it doesn’t matter if a little more leaks out. Most people reading this website are savvy enough to understand that all systems can be hacked, and most of us have been the victim of a data breach at least once. If someone really made a determined effort to find our personal information online, the likelihood is that they could do so. We need to stop thinking like that.
We also need to put a stop to another school of thought – the one that says the leaking of an average citizen’s data doesn’t matter. When we hear of huge data privacy breaches, we naturally assume that the target must be rich individuals, or rich companies. The everyday person isn’t of interest to a hacker on the other side of the world, so why would they misuse your data even if they didn’t have access to it? The answer is because we all represent one quick chance of a fast buck.
Each of us, to the sort of person who would misuse our data, is like an online slots game. Think about how many times a slots player will spin the reels before they win anything. Eventually, whether it’s spin one or spin one hundred, the slot will pay out. When it does, the player – or in this case the data thief – is the lucky jackpot winner. Each set of stolen data is like putting 10 cents into a slot for a hacker; so little effort that they don’t even think about it. They want the data for the same reason online slots players carry on playing – they believe they’ll eventually find a winner.
To speak in less abstract terms, there are several logical and practical reasons why you should care who has access to your data, and what they do with it.
- The Past Can Come Back And Bite You
Things that you said and did on social media years ago can come back and haunt you, long after you’ve forgotten about them. This is an even bigger problem for under 30s, who were in their teens when they sent their first Tweet or posted their first Facebook status, and may have spoken unwisely, naively, or out of ignorance.
We all say stupid things when we’re young, but in the past, those things weren’t recorded forever and then used as weapons against us when we became more successful. The higher you rise in life, the more people will dig through your history to find something to trip you up with. We see this happening every day, as followers of Donald Trump scour the old Tweets of his rivals with a view to getting him fired, while Trump’s own old Tweets are brought up to demonstrate his perceived hypocrisies.
- The Density Of Information Is Overwhelming
Let’s thin the unthinkable here for a second. Let’s imagine there was an enormous data breach at Google, and the private servers of the largest search engine in the world were breached. Somewhere, within those servers, are records of every single Google search you’ve ever entered.
If you’re a Chrome user, it also contains every website you’ve ever visited, and when, and how long you stayed there. That data would confirm what device you used to access that information, and where you did it from. In short, it’s the majority of your life on the internet, stored as a sort of digital facsimile of you.
Would you want that information to leak out? Worse still, would you want someone to be able to blackmail you with it? Could any one of us put our hand on our heart and say that we’d be able to comfortably explain every term we’ve ever searched for online?
- You Never Asked To Be Marketed To
Here’s another fictional scenario. You’re walking down the street, and you go into a clothes store. You see a shirt you like, and you buy it. Ten minutes later, you’re walking along the street again when someone comes up to you with a range of shirts, and asks you if you’d like to buy one.
When you ask them why they’re doing this, they tell you that they watched you buy a shirt ten minutes ago, so they know you like shirts. How disturbed would you be by this? And why aren’t you disturbed when it happens online? None of us ever asked to be directly marketed to the way we are. Companies use tracking data, shared purchase information, details about our preferences and interests; the list goes on. They either buy and sell the information from each other, or they co-operate to give each other a bigger picture of who we are as a potential consumer. Then they market directly to us, on our own devices, when we’re not consciously looking to make purchases. That isn’t ‘smart marketing,’ it’s invasive, and yet it’s become the new normal.
Every time you go online, you leave a little bit of yourself on the internet. Even now, someone, somewhere, will be aware that you’re on this page, reading these words. Your data matters. Your privacy matters. People who say that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear have failed to understand what ‘privacy’ means. Privacy means closing the curtains when we’re standing naked. Secrecy means closing the curtains to hide a crime being committed behind them.
Unless you want to stand before the internet naked, consider using a proxy when browsing. It may not completely stop your data being stolen – but it will make it harder.