Will is a 19-year-old student in the UK, currently studying Human Geography. Interested in everything from Shakespeare to the Metaverse, he mainly focuses on writing about politics, technology, and the environment.
Should Young People Be Worried About Their Digital Privacy?
The Internet has always been a part of young people's lives. It has shaped and moulded the world. It has impacted our relationships, our self-esteem, our political views, and our sense of humour. The Internet has been the most significant influence on our generation. This is not a bad thing. It’s easier to keep in touch with friends and family, discover those with shared passions, and learn new things. But the problem with living our lives through the Internet is that we become desensitised to the sheer amount of data that has been collected on us. The Internet is only getting more invasive, and as it does so, we need to think about just how much information we’re giving major corporations.
I remember when I first got Facebook. It was my thirteenth birthday, and access to Facebook was like a birthday present. Filling in the endless list of details in my profile felt like a game, something to complete. Birthdays, schools, family members, political views and religion were all filled out. It never occurred to my thirteen-year-old self that this was data that could or should remain private, and I dismissed the friends of mine that voiced concerns as being overcautious – after all, what’s the harm?
Having grown up in a world where handing over your data is part of everyday life, I don’t think I appreciated the extent of the information kept on us until recently. But it’s still hard to act against that because taking control of your information is simply inconvenient. There are serious problems with handing over personal information to social media companies, but it’s a great way to stay in touch with my friends. Facial recognition technologies present obvious dangers, but unlocking my iPhone instantly is quite useful. There are obvious issues in constantly streaming my location to my Snapchat friends, but it’s useful to know who’s in town. I think our generation is quite clued up on digital privacy, but we’re also thoroughly embedded in digital life. So, where do we go from here?
I think we need to be careful. Currently, it’s possible to maintain a decent level of privacy online, but that could change at any moment. Take the calls for social media profiles to require identity verification. It inevitably crops up in online conversation after incidents of targeted harassment. Harassment is never okay, but anonymity on the Internet ought to be a right. It’s essential for whistle-blowers, activists, and more. Another, more recent example is the recently abandoned plans from the IRS to require taxpayers to send scans of their face to a private company. It was thankfully shot down, but the potential for a mandatory, nationwide bank of facial scans was closer to reality than many would prefer. It’s the harmless guise in which many of these changes arrive that requires caution. Why wouldn’t you want to protect people against anonymous harassment? Why wouldn’t you want to prevent identity theft with facial scans? But it’s important to remember that there are ways to deal with these issues that don’t infringe on our right to privacy.
I think most would agree that the pandemic has caused the Internet to have an increased role in our lives. We’re all now accustomed to having to live our lives through the Internet, and the advances that have been made during this period will not go away. I don’t doubt that it’s going to be harder and harder to maintain privacy online, but it’s a cause worth fighting for. Companies are recognising the value of privacy, with an increased focus coming from companies like Apple and Google as they put measures in place to block tracking. Such measures have particularly harmed Facebook, with Meta’s Chief Financial Officer admitting that the privacy initiatives Apple introduced last year are expected cost them around $10 billion. But it’s important to remember that the initiatives Apple and Google are introducing are selling points, not rights. We cannot rely on these companies to protect our digital privacy – that falls to us. Our digital privacy needs to be enshrined in law, and that will require constant vigilance and constant protest. We’ve seen recently with the IRS that public outcry is effective enough to change policy, so we need to make sure that we don’t get complacent because every encroachment on our privacy risks becoming a point of no return.
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