I Want My Digital Privacy

Digital privacy has always been a popular topic on the internet with so many “horror” stories of data breaches or companies taking advantage of their user’s private data and selling it to other companies. It’s a double-edged sword for digital privacy because companies will often “tell” users what their data is being used for when they sign up for the site, but often bury it in the terms of service which the majority of people notoriously skip. It’s hard not to want to skip when, according to an interview between David Greene and Shankar Vedantam, “It would take the average user 40 minutes a day to read all of…the privacy and terms of service policies that we encounter related to the different services that we’re using all the time.”

Image by Markus Winkler from Unsplash

In the context of all the information that some sites require, digital privacy is very important. If I have to sign up to a site by giving them my address, phone number, and email, I want that information to be private and kept only to that site. I don’t want my private information to have the chance to be stolen and allow used against me either by someone impersonating me or using it as a way to stalk/harass me. If a website has no guarantee of digital privacy if I think about signing up for it, I am most likely not going to sign up for it because I don’t want to risk my information getting out with my complete knowledge. Even though I skim the terms of service of most sites I sign up to, and there’s always the risk of hackers obtaining my information that I have no control over, I am more likely to sign up for a site that at least guarantees that I will have digital privacy in some form.

Image by Caspar Camille Rubin from Unsplash

In my research on digital privacy, I found many cases of people’s privacy being breached and others taking advantage of that. In a recent case I found, there was a streamer on the popular streaming platform, Twitch, who had a stalker who found out her information and tried to threaten her into exposing herself on the livestream she had been doing at the time with her own father’s life (as the stalker had been calling her using her father’s phone number) and her address. It is one of the many examples of someone losing their digital privacy and having to deal with the problem of either themself or someone they know being put at risk. Despite believing you have full digital privacy when signing up for sites, this just shows that it’s not impossible for that privacy to disappear in less than a second without your knowledge.

While algorithms are a major part of the internet, I believe that they have both benefits and downfalls. If algorithms were to disappear from the world, most if not all of the internet would struggle or fail to work anymore because of how reliant it is on algorithms. They are necessary for the internet to continue to run and improve in quality for people to use. However, I think that overall algorithms are negative for society and individuals. Because of how they are created, it is hard to remain in control of them because if someone figures out how the algorithm works, they can essentially “hack” that algorithm. Such a case happens on YouTube when groups or a person will work to make a specific video be recommended after watching a different video. Not only that, but algorithms also are far from perfect and can easily learn the wrong thing that makes problems when that algorithm runs. That case was proven by a situation described in a Pew Research Center article stating that “Microsoft engineers created a Twitter bot named ‘Tay’…in an attempt to chat with Millennials by responding to their prompts, but within hours it was spouting racist, sexist, Holocaust-denying tweets based on algorithms that had it ‘learning’ how to respond to others based on what was tweeted at it.” No matter how reliant the internet is on algorithms to keep it running, they will never be perfect and in many cases, they will end up negatively affecting individuals and society.

Junior, UMN