The Internet has changed the way we live. It has made finding information, connecting with others, and sharing our thoughts and opinions easier. And while these digital advances have allowed us to spend less time waiting for things in the real world, they also come at a price. We’ve traded some of our privacy for the convenience of digital services, and thus, privacy violations have shot up.
It’s no secret that all of us have different levels of concern about what information we are willing to share with companies on the internet. But whether you’re a spirited advocate for privacy rights or just another participant in the “always-on” digital age, your data means something to you. Many people are shifting from the latter to the former because they understand how much of their information is available online. And how much they might be giving away without even realising it.
The Privacy Paradox
It is pretty clear that when asked, a vast majority of people will profess to care about their data. But the issue is that it doesn’t always translate into how they actually act. We are well aware that our specifics are being exploited for political gain and, even worse, to manipulate our opinions and behaviour. But despite all this, many of us still share more personal data than we should, from pictures on social media to credit card numbers.
The world is changing as we move from analogue to digital. This has created a paradox in which our desire for privacy clashes with our desire for convenience. While we seem to worry about the implications of our data online, we give it up for small rewards and convenience. For example, we put up details of our alma mater on Facebook to connect with old friends. Of course, we’ll find them now but look how easily we shared a key detail with strangers on the internet?
Another case in point is e-commerce. When we visit sites to shop for different products, we generally feel secure about sharing personal and financial information. We think we’re in good hands when we see the Visa or Mastercard logo next to the payment options. So we go through with the transaction and tick the box that saves all our card information for future reference.
It is hard even to fathom how much data we give away through such actions every day. The privacy paradox is a critical problem, solutions for which are difficult to find.
Reasons For Falling for the Privacy Paradox
Privacy is a complicated and uniquely personal issue, which means that it’s difficult for people to have a set of guidelines about what they want in terms of their privacy. They will share their data with certain companies or people but are reluctant to share it with others, leading to confusion and even frustration. No distinct boundaries exist.
When it comes to the privacy paradox, the catch is that a small piece of information can lead to a whole lot more. For example, sharing your GPS may help you find restaurants or shops easier. You might even get a 20% discount on your meal if you share your email address. The offers sound so irresistible that you give away this data without thinking twice. These bits of information may not be enough on their own, but as you reveal more on the internet, they will create a trail that leads to you.
We have a hard time comprehending the actual value of our data. It’s not until the damage is done that we realise how much is really at stake. And the impact is more than just financial. Individuals have been extorted, bullied, and had their identity stolen. Entire companies were wiped off the market due to reputational loss. These intangible aspects make it hard for people to value their data before they give it away properly.
Protection From the Privacy Paradox
The privacy paradox is more a result of our innate nature than anything else. But does that mean we can’t do anything to protect ourselves? Wrong. By following a few simple steps, you can keep your data a little more secure.
The first tip is to question yourself every time you fill in any details online. Ask yourself if it is needed, whether it is worth sharing more personal information for the reward that sits at the other end. You should not be giving away more data than you absolutely need to, especially on social media platforms. Just because everyone else is sharing details of their personal life does not mean you have to too. Practice digital restraint as much as possible. That’s how you can stop the problem at its root.
The next tip is to guard accounts that already contain sensitive information. The internet has become so central in our lives that we practically can’t live without it. There is no shying away from the fact that we will continue to use it extensively and, as a result, create more data. So the next best thing is to add more security to existing accounts through the use of two-factor authentication. The additional protection will be extremely useful if your credentials are compromised. Hackers will have to cross another difficult checkpoint before they can access anything.
The third tip is to not choose between “strong” passwords and two-factor authentication. Many individuals and companies feel they don’t need to implement anything else if they have randomly generated passwords for all accounts that tick all boxes. Unfortunately, there are too many ways hackers can steal passwords nowadays, and one can never be too careful. Therefore, strong passwords and two-factor authentication work best together, not in isolation.
Interestingly, Microsoft found that 99.9% of account compromise attacks could have been prevented by using multi-factor authentication. That’s how much a simple step can help you.
Another way to protect yourself is by using end-to-end encrypted platforms. If you actively share and store information online, ensure that the platforms themselves are entirely secure from illegal third party access. End-to-end encryption converts the information between two parties into gibberish. The decryption key is available only with the sender and receiver. So if your file manager or chatting app does not have such safety standards, it is time to switch.
You’ve read the headlines: data hacks, stolen passwords, and leaked photos. And you know the drill. In the modern world, privacy will remain a paradox for plenty. It’s overwhelming and easy to feel that we are not in control of our data anymore.
While it is true that we are more vulnerable than ever, small practices, as shown above, can be our saviours in the digital age. Being online and making use of services should not come at the cost of your privacy. There should never be a trade-off between privacy and a good, convenient user experience.