Does privacy exist in today’s digital world?

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That is a great question the users of digital technology need to be asking. Over the past year that is a question, many users of technology have been asking such a question. Is there such thing as online privacy? Does privacy exist?  While that is an excellent question to ask, the questions we should be asking ourselves is who owns our data and how it is used?

Technology enables us to do so many things. in ways we only imagined. The printing press made books mass producible. Steam engines made transportation faster and bigger for ships and trains. Gas lights then electric carried light into homes. Radios then TVs brought information and entertainment on a mass scale into homes. Telephones allowed people to speak with others across town or the country.

The biggest revolution was the adoption of personal computers and connection to the Internet of those devices. Laptops then personal digital assistants or PDAs were created. Then came the development of the smartphone. The iPhone is a decade old, yet we cannot imagine our lives without it. In the 1920s/30s, the iPhone was sci-fi something out of the comics or the 1960s with Star Trek. Social networking platforms were just in their infancy but tapped into our innate need to connect and share with others.

As humans, we are always thinking about how to make things better or easier on ourselves.

We keep pushing that needle towards our favor. In this desire, many have not considered the ramifications as we have forged ahead. As we give ourselves over to new technologies, we are often unaware of the concerns as we are dazzled with the capabilities.

Think about the services and devices we use every day. Most of us use a smartphone daily, and it isn’t just to make calls, but send/receive email, take photos/videos, write notes, play games, and stay connected on social networking platforms. Many have smart TVs in their homes, which is Internet connected. Digital voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home.

There is a trade-off for the convenience.

When we use apps on smartphones or log into social networking sites or visit websites, data collection happens. Our every move tracked to give us a better user experience and to help marketers do targeted sells. By clicking yes on the terms of agreement or when the device asked, we gave permission. That is all well and good until it isn’t.

In early 2018, the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data misappropriation scandal raised the need for an understanding of how much personal information collected and how companies are using it. The social networking platform collects vast amounts of data about users which includes users’ gender preferences, what pages they liked, where they shop, their relationship status, etc. Mainly, everything users do on the platform is collected. The data is valuable to organizations looking to influence decisions in purchasing products and services as well as politics and policy issues.

Add in questions regarding smart TVs and digital voice assistants listening into private conversations reported in the news media; there is a lot to think about in regards to privacy. Smart speakers such as Amazon’s Echo that houses Alexa are always passively listening. It is waiting for a command. Recently reported that an Echo unit recorded a conversation then emailed the audio file to a random contact.

Samsung has dodged privacy issues since 2015. Samsung smart TVs voice recognition service that allows users control their sets using voice commands through a microphone. At one point Samsung’s privacy policy stated: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of voice recognition.”

These circumstances raised red flags with the privacy advocates for the potential misuse of the information collected. Users en masse are now seeing these red flags and questioning.

Technology would have unforeseen consequences even if developed with the best intentions. Privacy is often an afterthought. After something like Facebook and Cambridge Analytica or Samsung happen and users are shocked and feel as though abused of trust occurred. Naivety on the part of the creators of the technology and the users caused this privacy dilemma.

Where do we proceed from here?

We have become accustomed these technologies. They have become woven into our everyday lives. It is not something we can just away without considerable pain.

What we need is a gut check asking if privacy exists. And honest conversations moving forward about what is privacy in regards to these technologies.

We are all mostly guilty of throwing caution into the jumping what is new, trendy, or helpful. We need to slow down when the shiny object appears to us. That means as users we need to read the fine print and to ask questions to understand what that fine print implies. Also, we need to decide what data is important to us and how much do we need to share it. And what is the value?

Transparency needs to be a fundamental value in technology by producers. Thought has to be given to the positives and negatives during the development stages. Mainly about the data collected from users. App developers need to think strategically about data they require to run their app effectivity.

Ways to opt-out of data collection or easy ways to disable settings on TVs or smart speakers for those who are concerned about privacy. Europe’s GDPR and the State of California’s data protection is a start. More data protection and privacy will be coming.

Freemium payment model needs to happen with the social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Think of LinkedIn and their different levels of access and service based on different needs of the user. And now YouTube with YouTube Red, a paid tier. We as users need to be willing to use social media sites where selling our data and serving up ads won’t be the only way for them to generate income.

There is a way to create balance with the needs of the enterprise and the users. It can be done with open communications and a fair and open discourse. Starting with education about what it all means. These situations will not go away in our current state. A balance is achievable if everyone is willing to give and take throughout the process.

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