We should care more about online privacy

A person clicking the "Accept" button without reading the "Terms & Conditions" page of an app.
Photo: Orchid Chakma

You talk to your friend about how bad your cavities have gotten and an ad for a toothpaste pops up on Facebook the very same day. You brush it off, share a meme about the platform eavesdropping on your conversation, and wait to see how many reacts you get. The creepily accurate ad is pondered momentarily but ultimately forgotten.

This experience may be more common on Facebook primarily because they are more obvious about it. However, it is not limited to just social media platforms, as voice recordings on Alexa have been found as text logs on Amazon servers, even after being deleted by their owners. A report discovered that Google still tracked users, despite their location history being disabled. These weren't isolated incidents in recent years, unfortunately.

The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation went into effect in 2018, requiring transparency from any company with a digital presence operating in the EU, signifying a tipping point where even a law was enacted to counteract it. The law had a nice ripple effect, spurring certain tech giants to extend these rights to non-EU citizens as well.

Data breaches like the Cambridge Analytica scandal have motivated many to start using online privacy tools in a bid to take matters into their own hands. VPNs and adblockers seem to be the majority's first line of defence, but other sophisticated tools have also emerged in the market due to growing security concerns. Dedicated private browsers, encrypted messaging apps, tools that mask emails and credit cards, services that search the dark web for data leaks, and even entire operating systems that provide online anonymity have been useful in limiting users' digital footprints.

At the end of the day, it is still unrealistic to expect people to reject technology because some corporations may or may not be keeping their data. No amount of fear mongering or paranoia would motivate people to give up something as useful as Google, even if it knows more about them than their best friend. Hence, making jokes about big data is as far as most get.

On the flip side, it's not feasible for companies to stop collecting data altogether. Information is the price we pay for using social media, and viewing most content on the internet, "free" of cost since businesses need to generate revenue somehow or the other. The data is also used to personalise our experience on the internet and help improve customer experience.

When it comes to internet usage, a compromise has to be made between convenience and security. Raising awareness about how much personal information is being taken and whether it's a reasonable transaction for digital consumption is one way to fix the power balance between users and websites.

While it's very tempting to click on "accept all cookies" and move on with our lives, keeping an extension that auto-deletes cookies might be a good one-time investment as well.


1. The Washington Post (May 6, 2019). Alexa has been eavesdropping on you this whole time.

2. Associated Press (August 14, 2018). Google tracks your movements, like it or not.

Ziba Mahdi is your resident pessimist. Cheer her up at [email protected]