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The real problem with online privacy

The real problem with online privacy is not the services collecting and storing your information. It’s how some of them misuse it without you even knowing.

facebook profiles under a magnifying glass for facial recognition
Image: Pixabay

Last year, we’ve seen the press reveal quite a few explosive, incredible, amazing, sensational stories about just how much of your personal information you share online each day. We have learned that tech companies like Apple and Google are tracking your every move. Software providers like Microsoft know what you do all day, and social networks like Facebook also like to track your activity day and night to be able to serve you with a hand-picked selection of advertising to fulfill their ultimate goal: make a big pile of money.

This is, in turn, not the problem itself: most of the times, you are the one who agrees to share information about where you are and what you like in order to receive a service better tailored to your personal needs.

The real problem with online privacy is not the services collecting and storing your information. It’s the way some of them misuse it without you even knowing.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal

Companies collecting information through services like Facebook is nothing new. When you use Facebook or Google to log in to anything from a picture-sharing service or an online forum, you agree for the service to access various bits of information about you – usually, your profile picture, your email address or sometimes your friend list.

Alas, no service is perfect – even security updates that patch a hole in one place can open up another, through which those with an agenda can reach into your private sphere and cherry-pick your private information.

This is what happened between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, a “political marketing” firm based in the UK. They collected the personal information of hundreds of thousands of Facebook users through an app after asking for their consent but in the meantime, they had access to information stored on the profiles of their Facebook friends, too.

Instead of letting Facebook know of the bug, they proceeded to collect all their information and use it to target their message based on it. And it wasn’t just a fat loss and served to those interested in healthy living – they used this data to target political campaigns and influence the outcome of elections.

Tougher regulation is not enough

There are already pretty tough regulations in place to protect the private information of internet users – but this is not a solution. After all, these regulations are only effective if the exploit or bug that exposes said information is revealed. What the world needs is a new way to control what information is shared and a new way for regulations to be enforced, focused on prevention rather than punishment.

Besides, people need to be taught how to keep their information safe online, what to share and what not to give out over the internet, and to choose services based on their safety record rather than their flashy specials and amazing promotions.

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Chris has been blogging since the early days of the internet. He primarily focuses on topics related to tech, business, marketing, and pretty much anything else that revolves around tech. When he's not writing, you can find him noodling around on a guitar or cooking up a mean storm for friends and family.

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