When people use the internet, they share tons of personal information. Internet services use this information to make it easier for people to find and consume what they want, when they want it.
User data is so valuable for companies because they can use it to tailor their products to the people that use it. It’s valuable to the user for the same reason, companies use it to make their lives easier on the internet.
The internet has a privacy problem. It is the best way for sharing information, yet it hasn’t made protecting all that information a priority. With so much information available, the internet creates huge risk for losing control of sensitive or private information. The problem is due in large part to the culture that surrounds privacy.
The companies collecting the most information have driven people to think that privacy is just an added bonus feature when it comes to the internet. Privacy should be built-in to the core of every website and internet service we use.
Unfortunately this is far from reality, the internet wasn’t built with privacy in mind. Now people are realizing the consequences with data privacy issues like the Facebook/Cambridge-Analytica scandal.
Any big changes to the default setting of the internet as Facebook and Google have built it up aren’t going to be easy to come by. “It’s just web architecture,” said Sharma. “Privacy was an afterthought.”
Better Privacy Is Possible
There are plenty of examples of companies that act in their users’ best interests and deliver on their privacy promises. The internet has privacy villains that ignore calls for better privacy, and exploit all the data they can. At the opposite end of the spectrum are companies that advocate for privacy and take every step to protect their users’ information.
The companies offering private solutions to people’s problems deliver utility without compromising privacy. Rather than operating as data collection operations, they focus on the core functionality of their products. Private search engines are just one example of privacy focused products.
Privacy Focused Products
Most products or services on the internet have private alternatives that are just as user-friendly as the big name products. These products may not be the first to come to mind for your given problem, but choosing privacy can help protect you from a number of risks.
Private Search Engines: These search engines deliver results like a normal search engine, like Google, Yahoo! or Bing. However, they don’t track your searches or your web behavior. This way you are the only one who knows what you’ve searched for. The results and ads you see on these search engines won’t be influenced by what you’ve clicked on or liked in the past. Private search engines offer more objective results and no specifically targeted ads.
Read More: Private Search Engines – A Complete Guide
VPNs: Virtual private networks are a near essential in a complete set of privacy tools. VPNs direct your internet connection through different locations, so the websites you visit can’t see your real location or IP address. Instead, they will see your VPN’s address. These help minimize websites’ ability to link your web behavior to your personal information. By diverting your web connection, you can make it more difficult for websites to track you down with ads, or to collect your personal information.
Browser Extensions: Privacy-focused extensions are the probably the easiest way to stay private on the internet. Tracker blockers and ad blockers minimize the data collection that websites would otherwise do.
Read More: Our Favorite Browser Extensions for Privacy
The Internet Needs Privacy By Design
What Does Privacy by Design Mean?
Privacy by Design is an approach taken when creating new technologies and systems. It is when privacy is incorporated into tech and systems, by default. It means your product is designed with privacy as a priority, along with whatever other purposes the system serves.
“Privacy must become integral to organizational priorities, project objectives, design processes, and planning operations. Privacy must be embedded into every standard, protocol and process that touches our lives.”
Seven Principles of Privacy By Design
- Proactive not Reactive; Preventative not Remedial: This approach anticipates and prevents privacy breaches before they happen. Because privacy has been integrated into the product, security is a priority from the beginning of the design process. Privacy by design protects organizations from privacy issues that could hurt the company’s reputation.
- Privacy as the Default: This ensures that personal data is automatically protected in any system or business practice. Individuals don’t have to protect their own privacy because the system was created to be secure. If people want to take steps to secure their own data they can, but by making privacy the default, they don’t have to.
- Privacy Embedded into Design: By embedding privacy into the design, rather than trying to add it on later, the system will run better. Ann Cavoukian, Ph.D, author of Privacy by Design: The 7 Foundational Principles says privacy should be “integral to the system, without diminishing functionality.” Making user-experiences worse for the sake of privacy is not an option. Privacy must be integrated in a holistic and creative way.
- Full Functionality — Positive-Sum, not Zero-Sum: Trade-offs shouldn’t be made to accommodate either privacy or functionality. It’s easy to fall victim to false dichotomies, like privacy vs. security, among others. But if the system requires compromises, its likely not as effective or user-friendly as it should be.
- End-to-End Security — Lifecycle Protection: Privacy by Design considers security from start to finish. This means that information is secure and protected when it enters the system, is retained safely, and then properly destroyed.
- Visibility and Transparency: By allowing users and other involved parties to see how information moves through your system, the system improves. Accountability, openness and compliance are required for an effective and secure system. Being clear about your system, and the level of security it provides, creates trust and holds your organization accountable.
- Respect for User Privacy: You should make user privacy your number one concern. If you are dealing with customer’s private information, the stakes of letting it fall into the wrong hands are extremely high. More generally, your system should be optimized for your users and all of their needs.
How Americans Feel About Online Privacy
People put more information on the internet now than ever. Nearly 70% of U.S. adults use social media, and an even greater percentage is concerned about their online privacy. Generally, people are willing to use the internet and social media. However, they don’t necessarily trust websites to respect their privacy.
“More than three-quarters of adult internet users (78 percent) are concerned about their privacy while using the internet, and more than 8 of 10 (84 percent) worry about having their personal information hacked or stolen, according to a nationwide survey conducted by AARP.”
People don’t have much control over how their information is collected, used, or stored by the companies that gather it. In addition to control, people should have transparency into what happens with their information (because it is their information).
According to a survey by Tech.pinions, Facebook users want more transparency into the company’s data practices, perhaps more than more privacy management tools and settings.
“How can I manage my information if I don’t even understand what and how it is used? This was a point that several senators made during Mark Zuckerberg’s hearing highlighting how long the Facebook terms of service document is.” -Carolina Milanesi, Tech.pinions
Hopefully Facebook and other websites’ issues will help change the whole internet’s behavior when it comes to data collection and user privacy. They should focus on privacy from day one, rather than scrambling to add it later when it’s too late.