Is privacy a lost cause?

Insights gleaned from our data provide a raw window into our thoughts, preferences, and inclinations

October 01, 2023 12:13 am | Updated 09:00 am IST

Many people believe that privacy is already a lost cause, that there is no point in fighting for it.

Many people believe that privacy is already a lost cause, that there is no point in fighting for it. | Photo Credit: Istock/Getty Images

Today, privacy is not just about locking doors and drawing curtains; it’s about safeguarding our digital identities and personal spaces from prying eyes. It’s about the freedom to choose what we share with whom. Privacy is synonymous with having control over our data, ensuring it’s not accessed or shared without our consent.

“I’ve got nothing to hide, I don’t need privacy,” goes an age-old refrain. But beneath this notion lies a fundamental misconception. Privacy is not just for those with secrets. In this digital age, when technology permeates every aspect of our lives, the right to privacy goes beyond individual identities. It’s a collective protection.

Think about our smartphones. These small techno-wonders capture conversations, trace locations with precision, and can record audio and video feeds. Devices such as Amazon Echo, Google Home and Nest and smart TVs with cameras and microphones have made our private spaces vulnerable to constant eavesdropping. Imagine someone listening into your intimate moments on the other side of the door. Security cameras do the same snooping. By embracing these technologies, we unintentionally give companies unfettered access to our personal lives. Using these devices means trading our data to these companies.

Consider Amazon, often seen as a friendly e-commerce platform. Little do people know that its Web hosting service, Amazon Web Services, supports a substantial part of the Internet. Coupled with data from Alexa, search and purchase histories, Amazon has a remarkably detailed profile of users. This reveals more than we might realise.

The WorldCoin organisation’s continued endeavour to collect biometric data remains a topic of significant interest. While the compensation may be tempting, giving away biometric information such as an iris scan has far-reaching consequences. Once data are handed over, they are exposed to potential breaches, jeopardising personal identities and privacy. Whatever you provide them, remains there — the data is never truly safe, regardless of their claims. It’s out there for anyone to steal, putting your identity at risk.

In China, the social credit system is a stark example of how data impact societal control. Behaviours, no matter how mundane, influence a person’s “social score”. The infractions can range from bad driving and smoking in non-smoking areas to public littering and even posting fake data online. The exact methodology is a secret, but is it hard to imagine how? The punishments can include slower Internet speeds, flight bans, or even being unable to leave one’s hometown. This is not dystopian fiction — it’s a reality that underscores the need to protect our privacy. China has one of the most stringent and all-encompassing surveillance systems in the world.

Many people believe that privacy is already a lost cause, that there is no point in fighting for it. Edward Snowden, whose disclosures revealed numerous global surveillance programmes, once tweeted, “It is, in a dark way, psychologically reassuring to say, ‘Oh, everything is monitored, and there’s nothing we can do. I shouldn’t bother.’ The problem is that it’s not true.”

In this digital landscape, we are surrounded by an abundance of “smart devices”, which collect the minutiae of our lives — step counts, heart rates, sleeping patterns — and send them off to private companies. These may seem trivial at first glance, but take a moment to delve deeper. Are they truly trivial? Our steps reveal insights into our health, and our sleep and heartbeat unveil emotional and behavioural patterns. Essentially, we are offering our most personal attributes on a silver platter.

Every Internet activity and piece of digital information we contribute builds a comprehensive profile that could be purchased and exploited for malicious intent. The question of what can be done with such data looms large. The insights gleaned from our data provide a raw window into our thoughts, preferences, and inclinations. Armed with this information, manipulation becomes as easy as puppetry, influencing political opinions and consumer behaviours. Every time we become too self-conscious of our activities, we censor ourselves from expressing truly. That’s not what freedom stands for. As individuals in an interconnected world, we possess the power to shape the narrative. Privacy is not a relic of the past; it’s a compass guiding us through the uncharted waters of the modern age. It is essential for us to survive.

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