“Surveillance is the business model of the internet,” — Bruce Schneider, Harvard Kennedy School of Governnment
2013, Yahoo. 3 billion users.
2014, eBay, 145 million users.
2015, Anthem, 80 million users.
2016, Uber, 57 million users.
2017, Equifax, 143 million users.
As the globe progresses further into the internet era, what will 2018 look like for online privacy? How many breaches will occur? How many people will they affect?
A mere 5 months into 2018, we’ve already begun toppling some of these records. The recently unveiled Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal is perhaps one of the most harrowing example. Dating back to 2011, over 87 million Facebook users saw their personal information breached and shared in an attempt to influence public opinion.
Though some of Cambridge Analytica’s highest profile activities were overseas, including the 2016 US elections and Brexit, New Zealand has not been spared. Despite only an estimated 10 people in the country downloaded the app through which user data were illegally obtained, over 64,000 users were impacted as friends’ data were also shared. Intended to provide useful data for academic research, Cambridge Analytica blatantly exploited this policy for sketchy commercial and political purposes, while Facebook did little to enforce its own rules.
Yet what is more concerning is not necessarily the breach itself, but what purpose it was serving. With information on every aspect of your life: friends, family, location, interests, photos etc., Facebook has built a complete profile of who you are. The same ad-driven business model sustains numerous other household names: Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.. Companies like Google probably know you better than your friends and family do; indeed, who would lie to Google?
Some might think: What’s the big deal with getting more personalized ads? That might not even be a bad thing. Yet we need not venture far to see the potentially negative consequences. Authoritarian countries have already begun experimenting, such as China, which has recently rolled out a social credit scheme. Such a system punishes behavior, often by restricting access to fundamental human rights. The dystopian TV anthology, Black Mirror, also comes to mind. One particular episode, “Nosedive”, is set in a world where life is driven by getting good feedback from others on an app. Disturbingly, a similar app already exists in real life in the form of “Peeple”, which has received significant criticism for cyber-bullying and harassment on the platform.
Though these scenarios, both real and fictional, seem distant, we as global citizens need to actively reject them to prevent them from affecting our lives. So, what action can we take to combat them in a world increasingly saturated with the internet?
For one, enable 2-factor authentication on your online accounts, which prevents parties from breaking into your account with your password alone. Never reuse passwords, as a single breach might affect multiple accounts if you do so. Consider using a password manager, many of which are free of charge, or simply jot your passwords down on a physical notebook.
Ever get annoyed by apps asking for permission? Go into your phone’s setting and revoke access for non-essential functions, with the added bonus of better performance and battery life. Visit Facebook and check what apps you have connected, and maybe remove some of them. You’ll be surprised by how many services accumulate over the years, many of them you may not even remember granting access to.
These are but some of the easier steps everyone should take. Many around the world are deleting their Facebook accounts to protest its attitude towards privacy, while others are forgoing Google, opting for search engines that don’t track its users, for instance DuckDuckGo. These actions might not be realistic for many of us, yet it’s always important to keep your privacy at the forefront of your mind whenever you are online, which is most of our time these days.
So ask yourself, what will 2018 look like for your online privacy? From instituting the guidelines above to educating others about this vital issue, there is so much we can do for ourselves, our communities, and society at large. As citizens of the internet, make your voice heard, and make your actions matter.
By Justin Chen