Share

Why Does My Digital Privacy Matter?


With a name like Jim, it’s easy to end up with dozens of nicknames over the years. One of the quirkiest nicknames I’ve earned is “Tinfoil Hat Jim.” The name implying my propensity for sharing (too passionately, sometimes) about the underrepresented problems of the world. Many may be addressed in future blogs. However, one in particular, is incredibly important to me – your digital data and privacy.

WAIT DON’T LEAVE!

Yes, data and privacy. Please stick with me, as I try to make a case for why this matters. In honor of my family and friends, I wanted to list some of the most common responses I hear when a discussion about digital privacy comes up:

1. “I don’t care if they see what I’m doing. I don’t have anything to hide.”

Ahh, this one. You essentially denounce yourself as so meaningless, who would even bother? It works in theory, but unfortunately your data is what makes everyone else’s data so valuable – and vice versa. In the business of selling info, large sets of user data are required to glean habits and trends of different demographics.

This information is only valuable in large sets to build patterns with machine learning and algorithms. The data gatherers are hoping you and 5 million other people won’t care enough to secure your data – that’s the most valuable result for them. In the words of Plato, “To be silent, is to consent.”

TL;DR: It’s precisely because enough people just don’t care, that everyone else’s data is so valuable and it becomes easier to discern your personal preferences and opinions.

2. “Oh well, they already have all my info anyway.”

It’s true that consumer data protection has largely been ignored and violated for decades now. And it’s true some of your old info is probably in the hands of parties that should not have it. While a lot of your past history may be out there for someone to use or sell, why would that be a reason to continue providing those parties with more current and personal data about you? Think about your oldest email addresses, credit cards, and passwords. The data most likely to be compromised is probably already irrelevant to you, expired, or unused. But it’s not a logical reason to continue leaving yourself vulnerable to privacy violations.

TL;DR: If your sink was leaky, would you neglect to fix it because some of the water already leaked out?

3. “Well, I’m broke anyway, so the joke is on them.”

While Aunt Margery probably got the whole family paranoid after watching a broadcast special about “the foreigners” stealing your credit card info, let’s not go make a Facebook post about it…yet. Your primary concern is not really that someone will steal your money. This is where some of the strongest data security regulations already exist, thankfully. The concern is that data collectors will be able to build a profile on you and influence your habits and belief systems.

TL;DR: The big players aren’t after your money, directly. They are after your habits, patterns, and beliefs.

In general, I think the greatest mistake we make as a population is assuming our surface data is all that’s being collected. In reality, governments and corporations are tracking thousands of data points on each one of us – financial, political, commercial, social. How long we hover on text and images, which devices we are connecting with, where we are connecting from, what themes develop from our search history.

Want to take the first step in protecting your personal data? See some of my simplest recommendations below.

1. Make Mozilla Firefox or Apple Safari your default web browser.

Website cookies and trackers normally follow you around the web, track your actions, and report the data back to an organization. Firefox and Safari are making the most progressive attempts to prevent this by having each tab represent its own internet session. This way trackers cannot exit their own tab to track your other web activity.

2. Change your default search engine to DuckDuckGo.

Yes, DuckDuckGo. It sounds funny, but it is the antithesis to Google. Many search engines are the biggest offenders of privacy. Google began tracking and storing user data under the guise of providing more relevant ads. This has quickly devolved into complex personality profiles built “anonymously” and sold to the highest bidders, who want specific demographics to receive their message. The DuckDuckGo search engine does not operate on this revenue stream and doesn’t collect personalized data to profile and store.

It’s important to recognize that the more someone knows about you, the easier it is to understand you, including your wants, needs, and beliefs. At its least sinister, this means targeted advertising and location tracking – getting you to direct your money toward them. However, utilized in more sinister ways, this data can be used for voter suppression, political manipulation, social unrest, and even global disruption.

Jim Crawford is the Director of Communications at CoPeace. As a forward-thinking holding company, CoPeace is building a portfolio of carefully selected for-profit companies with measurable social and environmental impact. To learn more about impact investing, check out CoPeace’s Intro to Impact Investing.