The 2018 Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal has led many people to become more conscious about privacy concerns and how much of our personal information is being collected and sold by social media corporations. But are we as individuals actually capable to protect our online privacy, or is this an issue that can only be addressed in collective regulations?
The story of how Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that was employed by both the Trump election team as well as pro-Brexit campaigners, stole private data from over 50 million Facebook users broke out after a whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, came forward to report the massive data breach. This massive scandal managed to put online safety and privacy back on the maps and create awareness for privacy concerns among everyday citizens around the world and politicians alike, showing that privacy laws are often lacking in the digital age. At the same time, there is still often the claim that privacy is a personal issue that we are supposed to guard ourselves, and we are able to make rational, well-informed decisions
It is then not surprising that after the breaking of this story there was a large group of people who wrote think pieces and columns about leaving Facebook, and arguing it’s the only way to protect our data is to opt out of social media, or at least Facebook, leading to the increased popularity of the #deletefacebook hashtag. However whether that actually protects you from having your data taken by Facebook, as Facebook admittingly has been collecting data on non-users as well through what others are posting and them giving permission to use their email, and phone contacts, thus collecting information about people who do not have accounts.
How many sites will you no longer be able to visit if you were no longer to accept any cookies, and how much time would it take you to read through every privacy agreement before you acces even one website, how many sites would you actually still visit? Hull documented that it would require 244 hours to read all the privacy policies of all the sites we visit, and this was in 2015. Recent European Union regulation has made it significantly easier to opt out of specific cookies, however many sites are still hosted outside the European Union’s borders and thus do not have to keep to these regulations, making opting out of any cookies significantly more difficult.
Additionally, seeing privacy only as a matter of the individual, ignores the social impact of what our data means, and how it can be used to manipulate us. The case of Cambrigde Analytica has shown that at the hand of our data they were able to target people, and create bubbles in which these people could be targeted to sway their opinion to a specific political candidate or (political) cause by targetting them with specific advertisements or promotial materials, and create bubbles of information that become increasingly hard to escape from.
Online privacy is still predominantly seen as a personal issue, however in this article I hope to have made a point that we, as users, often lack the insights that are needed to be able to make informed decisions of what data we give away and what purpose this data serves, and we thus need to find a new way of looking at online privacy, instead of the opt-out model that we currently ascribe to. Instead we should push for stricter privacy regulations to protect users from having their data taken that don’t revolve around individuals all becoming data experts, but instead on regulating corporations on which data they can collect from users in general.
some additional sources I found quite interesting:
The Key to Safety Online Is User Empowerment, Not Censorship
Trading privacy for survival is another tax on the poor