perils of privacy online

Facing the perils of privacy in a digital world

When we think about privacy today, we can probably best sum it up as complicated and constantly changing. The way we interpret privacy. The way younger generations interpret privacy. And the increasing diligence needed to maintain our privacy, all add to the challenges of a digital world today.

Back in 1967, David Westin, in his book Privacy and Freedom, described privacy as
“The claim of individuals, groups or institutions, to determine for themselves, when, how and to what extent, information about them is communicated to others”

Still relevant today, his work led to the transformation of many laws concerning privacy. In more recent years however, he conceded that laws alone can no longer determine our privacy, but rather we need a combination of legal, technological and social fixes as well as constant education as to our rights, and our self determination of these rights.
As our hyperconnected, overly sharing digital world continues, this is certainly becoming more evident.

Danah Boyd refers to privacy as something that has certainly taken on massive changes in a connected world. In the past, you had to work hard to be public. Now, you must work hard to be private. So yes, the tables have definitely turned.

So what does that mean for parents of young people, and indeed young people themselves, when it comes to managing privacy? What are some of the challenges we all face regardless of our interpretation and how can we best maintain some semblance of control in a world that makes it extremely difficult to do so?

What are the privacy challenges we all face?

A culture of sharing

Many people today will give up their privacy for the fame, for the money, or even for a ring on the finger. We give up privacy for the ‘likes’ on a photo, for the ease of shopping online or for googling our next holiday destination.
Unless you are going to be one of the very few people who never google search anything, never connect with anyone online or in fact, never use a digital device of any sort….. then privacy issues will increasingly become a part of your life. And the research has also found that the average person is far more concerned about their privacy today, than they were even 5 years ago.
With social media, with 24/7 connectedness, with Reality TV, we have seen a rise in sharing, and in sharing publicly.  We are now very accustomed to hearing people’s inner most thoughts, bearing witness to their emotions, watching them as they sleep and their late night mutterings ‘big brother’ style. We watch how people deal with other people, create or deal with conflict and the inner workings of the mind, as it explores the best way to win a rose from a bachelor, cook the tastiest dish or find the immunity idol. Whilst not all of us want to put ourselves out there on reality TV, the fact remains that we are getting far more used to this type of sharing than we ever would have been before.

Different generations, different views on privacy

For parents, we usually define privacy as having control over the information about ourselves that we choose not to share.
For young people today, that control is deemed as far less likely to be something they can control and thus their notion is quite different to ours. And my idea of privacy may even be different to that of my parents and certainly grandparents. Previous generations tend to keep things much more private. Other people didn’t need to know your business and much more stayed behind closed doors or was held close to one’s chest. So the changing social environments of the times, certainly ensure our notions of what privacy is and what should be kept private are changing as well.
Our kids are therefore growing up thinking this type of public revelation is normal and thus tend to have different standards of acceptance.
According to a study by Sydney university, they are actually more likely to feel in control of their privacy online than those over 40, and have more likely adjusted privacy settings on the apps they are hanging out on. This may be they are more tech savvy and know the options are there, or they have grown up knowing these concepts of privacy play a greater role in their lives. They are also becoming increasingly aware of the role corporations  and government agencies play in collecting data as well as the data trail they leave behind. For many however, it is still just a byproduct of the only world they have known.

So we need to be careful that we are shifting with the cultural shifts that have occurred in order to have the most meaningful and relevant conversations about privacy for our young people.

Yes we want to talk about not sharing photos of others without permission, and not sending nudes that you don’t want to appear on the feeds of peers and strangers alike. Yes we need to be mindful of the digital footprint that is being left behind every time we post something online. But we also need to recognise that their notions of that privacy may well be coming from a different paradigm than ours.

Data Collection

Knowing that everything we do online is tracked and traced and often times bought and sold, has also become a major issue.
There are generally 3 ways our data is collected online.
Data Given: This is data we knowingly hand over. The photos we share. The comments we make. The goods that we buy.  All the data we contribute every time we participate online.
Data Traces: data left behind from what we have given becomes data traces of our online participation. Usually less knowingly handed over and captured by tracking technologies such as cookies, location data, webtracking etc
Inferred Data: this is the data that comes from analysing the first 2. Our data given and the traces left behind, allow for analysis to create and profile our online behaviours. This may then play out in the pages and pictures we are shown, corporations and companies we are advertised to and the people and places that may be suggested to us as a good fit.

Growing up knowing that the dress they put in their cart but didn’t buy will continue to come up in their advertising feeds and knowing that when they search for Bali holidays they will continue to be bombarded with holiday deals, is something many young people recognise as part of the trade off. For others, this poses a far greater risk, ranging from mildly creepy to major embezzlement.

Data Breaches

We are increasingly reminded of just how easy data breaches can occur. In just this past year, Australia alone has seen breaches occur in hospitals, car companies, retail outlets, banks, insurance agencies, parliamentary services, real estate agencies, hotel groups, sporting teams and of course to Facebook themselves. Handing over our medical histories and our sensitive information is now met with increasing trepidation as we fear such information becoming common knowledge. When our personal data is subsequently leaked and ‘found’ in the hands of those we didn’t intend, then we have every right to be nervous about what we are knowingly and unknowingly giving out.

Curated Feeds

Because of the data that is collected about us, the content we search for and therefore the content that is suggested to us, we may well be cocooning ourselves into a filter bubble of sameness. The people we follow are usually similar with similar points of view. The media outlets are similar with similar opinions. We also know that a study in the UK in 2018 found that 44% of young people got their news from social media, mainly snapchat, yet only 25% of them trust their online news service. We want to be sure we are all getting our news and information from a variety of sources, knowing how easy it is to manipulate a point of view.

Scheming Scammers & Fraudsters

Certainly one of the more sinister elements of a connected world is the access of scammers and fraudsters to our data, our images, our money and even our identity. Innocently giving over an email address, our credit card details or even following a fake facebook account, may all end in data and privacy violations. Purchasing a skin care cream that claims to take years off your life, may well reduce your bank account far more than it does your wrinkles. And innocently posting that photo of your little cherub playing in the back yard may well end up gracing the pages of an horrific paedophile website. Young people are pretty savvy now at knowing to click on the cross when a pop up appears on the screen telling you you are the lucky recipient of a free ipad. And many of us are becoming wary of the $60000000000 that will land in our bank account or the long lost connection to a wealthy prince. But unfortunately many are not so savvy and the perpetrators of this fraud are continuing to fleece millions from unsuspecting victims.

Paedophiles, predators and grooming

Befriending strangers online can of course open us up to the very worst that humankind has to offer. That’s not to say we can’t meet people online and form valid and valued relationships, but we certainly have to be wary of those who don’t have our interests at heart. Whether chatting with people on online games, social network banter or finding friends on dating sites, we are always opening ourselves up to people who may not be who they seem.  Not to mention the heinous number of paedophilic images uploaded, as well as those targeted and blackmailed with image based abuse.  UK police just revealed they have over 13.4 million images on their child abuse database (up from 10,000 in 1990). Facebook also revealed it removed over 8.7 million “pieces of content” that violated its policy around child nudity or sexual exploitation between July and September last year.

So knowing that these challenges exist, and knowing that it is highly unlikely we are going to use the online world any less, what are some things we can do to help maintain some semblance of control over our online identities?

Here are a few strategies we can use to have a greater input in to how our data is received, shared and stored.

Taking some control

  • Use privacy settings and check them regularly for changes. Many settings are not private by default and we need to physically go in and make the changes to turn on or toggle off. For a more advanced look at settings my friend Trish from Eyes Open Social has some great advice on setting accounts up properly, particularly this video on how your stories are still public on Snapchat. Leonie Smith from the Cyber Safety Lady has written a manual that can be purchased that outlines how to set up most of the free built in controls on your device.
  • Install 3rd party software. Family Zone is the product I recommend when it comes to managing your families screen behaviours. This certainly limits the sites that can be accessed and thus the information that can be shared and with whom.
  • Always set up 2 factor identification to ensure your social networks are not easily hacked. This can be done for most of your online accounts and is the best way to add that extra layer of protection to prevent other people accessing your account and data. Go to the privacy section of your account information and take the steps to turn on the 2 factor identification which essentially then means you need a password and a code which will be sent to another device of your choosing.
  • Ask permission before posting photos of others, especially if you are unsure of their views online sharing. And if you don’t want photos of your kids shared by others, be sure to say so when you know photos are being taken.
  • Ask photos to be removed if concerned. If it is a particularly sensitive photo that has been shared without your consent and is causing you hurt or embarrassment, first ask the person to take it down. If they don’t, then ask the social network or platform the image is found on. If they do nothing after 48 hours, then go to the Office of the eSafety Commission, where they have the ability to override the networks and have the image removed. esafety.gov.au
  • Post personal photos to select groups or friends online. If you don’t want photos shared with all your friends and all of their friends, you can create smaller, more relevant groups to share your photos with. Also setting up in Facebook the ability to be alerted and grant permission when you are tagged in someone else’s photo.
  • Do the right checks before handing over private information or credit card details. If the product sounds too good to be true, that may well be the case. Read the reviews of others who have purchased.
  • Be wary of winning anything online. Once again if it sounds too good to be true it usually is. Teach your kids to automatically click the cross and close down the pop up. Scamwatch can be a good resource for getting verification and the heads up on latest scams.
  • Consume content with a healthy dose of scepticism. We don’t want to become complete cynics, but we must view this world with a critical eye that forces us to question the validity of what we are consuming. Ask ourselves the questions, how do I know this is true? What information do I need to back this up? What research have they used? Why was this written or produced? Who is the author or publisher?
  • Be sure you are following the real deal. Look for clues that the page or person you are following is the real one. Does the page for the large corporation or the superstar pop star have 34 followers? If so it’s not going to be the real one.  What do I need to know to prove they are who they say they are? What other information may I need before I proceed?
  • Shop from secure sites. Look for the padlocks. Read the reviews. Ensure the site is encrypted with Secure Sockets layer (SSL) which will mean the URL will begin with HTTPS rather than just HTTP.
  • Be wary of logging in to public wifi networks
  • Understand what the new toys can find out about you. Google home and even baby monitors may well be collecting a whole lot of stuff about you that you don’t even realise. That’s not to say there will be any negative impact. But its good to know what you are handing over.
  • Learn to know the difference between fact, opinion and advertising. Looking for clues as to whether something is true and factual, or possibly trying to encourage me to purchase something or hand over money is a crucial skill today.
  • Understand how the games and networks your kids play on work. More posts on specific games and networks can be found on the blog. Here are my guides to Live Streaming, Fortnite, Apex Legends, TikTok, Roblox
  • Trust your gut. Listen to that feeling in your stomach that suggests this may not be what its cracked up to me. Get your kids to listen to that feeling in their stomach that says, this person may not be who they say they are. This person probably doesn’t actually need this information about me. This person may well be lying about what they are going to do with this photo.

This list is by no means exhaustive and in no means will leave you 100% protected from data breaches and oversharing. But it’s a good place to start to ensure you are doing what you can and teaching your children to do what they can to remain in control of the information and data that is being shared about you online.

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