#Unlisted: Privacy Not for Sale
By Alicia Haywood of iSpeakMedia
A recent exchange with one of my students left me pondering the generational divide that exposes disparities in how we gather information about each other. “I’m Googling you,” she said as I sat less than five feet away from her. My reaction: “Why not just ask me what you want to know?” That seemed to strike her as an unconventional idea.
The habit of referring to a mobile, global database eclipsed recognition of her apparent access to the source in real life. I know her peers do the same. But since this observation, I have been questioning how often we examine our own expectations and levels of tolerance when it comes to the handling of our information—personal or otherwise—in the age of digital dossiers.
Long before public sharing of private lives became a cultural norm, having an unlisted phone number was enough to establish that privacy was a serious consideration. Exposure was much more controlled. Consent, trust, and intentions with personal information were explicit, as we could assess risk and vulnerability in the moment. Now, as policy struggles to get ahead of algorithms and software developers, I believe we need to be responsible for our own online privacy practices and data security.
Let’s acknowledge that many of our concerns about online safety can be assuaged by invoking common sense logic. Such as:
- Slow down. Read conditions for usage and privacy statements before accepting them. Challenge companies on points of concern.
- Question “free”. From Wi-Fi to apps, investigate how private companies are able to offer users engagement free of charge, and yet generate billions in revenue. Recognize your personal data as the commodity in this equation.
- Take control. I keep my contributions to the digital grid functional and tethered to necessity. For example, access to my work in the professional media industry is fair game. Information about where I had dinner last night is not for sale.
- Proceed with caution. Even through “secure” connections or “encrypted” messaging, apps/websites are strategically designed to keep us comfortable so we’ll use, view, and click around longer. Understand how each click translates as insights into your lifestyle, health, associations, behaviors, and preferences, while increasing the value of your data profile to those who want your attention and those multi-billion dollar companies in position to sell it to them.
- Opt-out. Keep permissions current in the privacy and security settings of your selected browser. And when apps prompt you to grant access to your contacts or your location or your passwords, ask yourself why the need it if all you want to do is play a game or make a purchase or check the weather.