Our growing dependency on the Internet seems to make it impossibly hard to keep anything confidential. Social media tempt us to share. Data collectors encourage us to disclose identifying data, our personal preferences and our online behavior in exchange for free services. Controversial surveillance programs collect staggering amounts of data. Daily, every Internet user – willingly, wittingly or not – discloses some information he or she might prefer to have kept private or eventually regret to having shared. In the era of Big Data, what users share is often only collected, but further shared among data collectors.
Data Privacy Day, an annual event promoted by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), attempts to raise awareness among Internet users that privacy does matter. Data Privacy Day is a complement to the NCSA’s Stop. Think. Connect. program. This program encourages users to stop to consider whether the online activities they engage in or the sites they visit are beneficial or harmful before they connect. Data Privacy Day further encourages users to stop to consider whether the information they disclose online is beneficial, potentially harmful or overly intrusive.
These programs are critically important; ultimately, the better-informed Internet users are, the more likely they will share or disclose information responsibly. Data Privacy Day is the perfect time to consider the following guidance:
Sharing is the opposite of “keeping private”. There is no corollary to whispering a secret to a friend in cyberspace. Once you share or disclose any bit of information in cyberspace it is potentially public and will remain so forever.
“Free” almost always comes at a cost to your privacy. Data collectors and social pressures make the temptation to accept free service in exchange for giving up personal data extremely hard to resist. If you can’t resist, at least enter the contract with eyes wide open: there are virtually no circumstances where a giveaway, free access or free use of an Internet service or social media site comes free.
Respect for private data is critical with any commitment you make to share. Do some homework. Be confident that the party you are about to trust will respect your privacy before you share any information.
Choose what you share wisely. There’s no substitute or privacy setting that can compensate for poor judgment. Ultimately, you are accountable or responsible for the benefits or harm resulting from what you say, share or reveal.
Despite the efforts of watchdogs, activists, and whistleblowers, many Internet users remain unaware or naïve to the sweeping natures of data collection or surveillance programs. However, as users become more informed, they will be more apt to insist that data collectors and surveillance programs are held accountable and act responsibly and transparently. Generally, Internet users can gauge accountability, responsibility and transparency of data collectors by considering the following before you subscribe to a service, download and use a free app, join a social medium, or purchase a product:
Notice. Has the data collector made you aware that private data are being collected?
Consent. Has the data collector asked you to expressly consent to the collection and use of private data?
Purpose. Has the data collector explained why private data are being collected?
Extent of use. Has the data collector explained who will use the data and for how long?
Remanence. Has the data collector explained what will be done when the data are no longer useful?
On Data Privacy Day 2014, think about ways you can protect your privacy. Think, too, about the kinds of policies and legal frameworks you’d like to see to protect rights to privacy.
If you want to learn more about Data Privacy Day or privacy issues in general, check out these additional resources:
National Cyber Security Alliance, Stay Safe Online