Importance of Data Privacy in the Modern Digital World

Today our lives are becoming very connected to the digital world. We use various digitals tools to fulfil our day to day activities. For example, you may use the Zoom platform for an online meeting with your co-workers or you may post something funny in your Facebook profile. But most people do not care about the concept of ‘Data Privacy in the Modern Digital World’. So today let’s discuss this concept of data privacy and the importance of it.

Before moving on to the importance of data privacy, let’s first understand what data privacy is. According to Jeff Petters who is a product marketing specialist at Varonis (1), ‘ Data privacy is a branch of data security concerned with the proper handling of data’. He divides the data privacy into three parts,

  • Whether or how data is shared with third parties.
  • How data is legally collected or stored
  • Regulatory restrictions on data such as GDPR(2).

A digital tool uses ‘privacy policy’ to convey their data privacy policy to their customers, and customers should accept it before using that tool.

I think now you have a pretty good idea about the concept of data privacy. Now I am going to ask you a question, ‘Do you read the privacy policies before accepting it ?’. For the above question, most people are going to answer ‘no!’. Therefore we can safely assume that most of us do not know what sort of accesses we are giving up by just accepting these privacy policies. I think most of you should have experienced that when you googled something and then weirdly a relevant Facebook ad showing up. This is because you have given access to Facebook to read your browser cookies (If you do not know about browser cookies please refer to this link), then Facebook can target and tailor their advertisements towards each individual. Well, some of you may think it is convenient. But let me give you another example, I think you all have used Uber to hail a taxi. But you might be surprised to hear that uber users are more likely to pay surge pricing if their phone battery is low. How does Uber know about their phone battery level, because In their company’s privacy policy they say that they are collecting that information about their users. Uber rejects this claim by saying that it’s an interesting kind of a psychological fact of human behaviour(3). I think now your interested might be peaked. Let me give you one final example. In 2014 CBC news and a popular prankster Jack Vale surprised people on California beach by information found on their social media profiles. They used location hashtags to find people who were on the beach at that moment and use the information on their profile to spook them. Jack could find them because they have posted all their profile public, even their profile pictures and their emails. Just imagine a random person on the street coming to you and saying that I know you and telling all of this information about you, it would be really scary right? Now think if Jack could do that then could the others. Some malicious person can imitate you and do a lot of damage to your reputation and your families reputation.

I think now you have a good idea about why we should pay more attention to our data privacy. Now there is another issue, Do you think our data is safe? Do you think all these big companies securely store our data? Before answering those questions, let me take you to back to 2016, in this year there was a massive data breach happened in Uber(5) that affected some 57 million customers, including both riders and drivers, revealing their names, email address and phone numbers. They had to pay nearly $100,000 to the hackers to get rid of those data, and that is not all, they covered that incident for more than a year! That is just one incident, there are many such incidents which has happened across the globe. Now I think you know the answer to the above questions.

But we cannot live our lives without these digital tools. Then how can WE protect our privacy in this 0,1 world? There are a few steps we can take such as,

  • Always have control over what you share to your social media profiles and never share anything intimate or sensitive to ‘public’ try to change it to ‘friends only’ or some other configuration.
  • If an app asked for weird permissions just say NO!. As an example, if a sudoku app asked for permission to access your camera just uninstall that app. Also, you can always remove these granted permissions (to apps) through your settings page in your smartphone.
  • When downloading apps to your smartphone, always do that through the Google play store (for android users) or Apple app store (for Apple users). Never download apps through some 3rd party websites (unless you really want to😉).
  • If you are in a public place always try to avoid open wireless networks. Even though they are free they can be abused. Just assume you are in a Pizza Hut and you try to access their public wifi, but you find two such wifi connections(‘PizzaHut’, ‘PizzaHUT’) one may be set up by a malicious attacker and if you connect to their connection, they can track your every move on the internet. If you really want to use those open networks, try to use a VPN, it will protect your connection and others would not be able to detect your online activities. (to learn more about VPNs refer this link).
  • I know this is hard but always try to read the privacy policy of an app before you install it, then you can get a very clear picture of their notion of privacy.

Finally, if anyone is interested in learning more about data privacy and its importance I have given some links below that you can refer(6) and if you found this article useful and interesting please feel free to share this among your friends and colleagues.

Always remember that If it’s free, you’re probably the product!

Thank you and Bye for now 👋👋

P.S

Special thanks should go to Yogya Gamage who helped me by proofreading this article.

References

(1) https://www.varonis.com/blog/data-privacy/

(2) https://gdpr-info.eu/

(3) https://www.forbes.com/sites/amitchowdhry/2016/05/25/uber-low-battery/#14c801c774b3

(4)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdgUAHgkM5I

(5)https://techcrunch.com/2017/11/21/uber-data-breach-from-2016-affected-57-million-riders-and-drivers/

(6) Extra References

Undergraduate | Computer Science and Engineering at University of Moratuwa , Sri Lanka