Do People Have a Right to Privacy On The Internet?

Is There an Expectation of Privacy Online?

In the early days of the internet, it was reasonable to have an expectation of privacy, however, expectations have evolved drastically. Legal rulings and the ways companies have often ignored the regulations that apply to them have diminished people’s expectation of privacy.

Data breaches, leaks, and hacks are hardly shocking anymore, even if the incident impacts millions of people’s data. The problem with companies ignoring privacy laws is that it gets rid of people’s expectation of privacy online. Many of the laws which regulate privacy rely on this expectation of privacy to determine if companies are acting legally.

One of the biggest problems with many services online is the lengthy and complex privacy policies and terms of use documents. These documents are intended to disclose how websites collect and use their visitors’ information, but they often lead to more confusion than clarity.

Confusing privacy disclosure documents make it highly unlikely that anyone is going to read them. This has lead to a general complacency where people blindly accept the terms of the tools they use regardless of what it may entail.

Read More: 10 Ways To Stay Private Online

Online Privacy vs. Privacy in The Real World

Privacy on the internet and privacy in the real world both involve keeping your information hidden from other people or groups. In terms of how to protect yourself, the strategies to protect yourself in the virtual world are much different than the ways to stay private in the real world.

In real life, protecting your privacy is usually about protecting people from being able to see into your home. This entails the use of curtains and other drapery, as well as discretion in daily life. If you wish to keep details of your life private, you choose not to share them. While sometimes difficult to implement, this is a simple enough concept to understand.

Online, privacy is conceptually the same. You do not want people to see what you are doing. This isn’t necessarily because what you are doing is wrong or gross, it is simply because what you are doing is private. Thus, there are measures that you can take to protect your internet privacy.

Most importantly, be wary of the permissions that you voluntarily give away. Some apps on your smartphone will want access to your message and call history, your calendar, your camera and more, even if this information isn’t essential to the app’s function. Websites and other online services may use cookies to track your internet usage patterns, to sell to outside third parties. There are extensions and procedures that allow you to block functions like this and more.

The Legality of Internet Privacy

There are a plethora of laws covering real-world and online privacy, worldwide. General online privacy is, in some ways, protected by privacy laws that were originally drafted for real-world privacy. For example, The Privacy Act of the United States was passed in 1974 and protects many internet users. Eventually, countries started passing laws that regulate internet privacy specifically.

Most Western countries passed internet privacy protection laws in 2018. These laws protect internet consumers from unlawful acquisition and use of their personal data online. They also work to penalize parties that try to steal users’ data without permission. Unfortunately, many laws were drafted without consulting internet experts, thus, there are several loopholes in the protections.

Scarily, there are also legal protections that work against privacy. Most notably, the Patriot Act. This law was passed shortly after 9/11, to combat terrorism online. While this had support at the time of passing, it now faces significant criticism. The biggest critics state that the Patriot Act has done little to combat terrorism while infringing on Americans’ privacy in online spaces.

In a similar vein, Edward Snowden was forced into hiding after revealing the level of information collection that was conducted online via official government bodies. To many, the monitoring that Snowden revealed is extremly concerning and controversial. It illustrates, however, that despite laws protecting privacy, the government is exempt from many of these laws.

Ongoing issues with large companies abusing their power to exploit their users’ data show that current internet privacy regulations aren’t working.

Benefits of Online Privacy

There are a plethora of benefits to increasing your level of privacy online. For instance, it provides an increased level of protection against data exploitation from malicious third parties or individuals.

Increased information privacy can encourage freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Doxxing’ is the term used to explain a malicious process. Essentially, when a user is ‘doxxed,’ someone else releases all their personal information. This can cause harassment, stalking and more.

Increasing your online privacy allows you to cultivate an online space. This means that users can quietly block other users that they don’t wish to see content from. Additionally, certain phrases and news items can be blocked. In most cases, other users cannot see what you have blocked. Thus, you can cultivate your online space to be ideal for you, without the knowledge of others.

Read More: How to Protect Your Privacy on the Internet

Finally, having good internet privacy can protect you from targeting and predictive advertising. In many cases, predictive advertising tries to make assumptions about you based on your past internet behavior. Increasing your internet privacy will stop this type of data collection and analysis. Additionally, predictive advertising can alert others to personal information or purchases that you would rather not share.

Encryption

Encryption is one of the best ways to keep your data private online. Essentially, encryption is an algorithm that translates your personal information into an undecipherable code. There is a ‘code key’ which is a randomized string of letters and numbers. When run through decrypting software simultaneously, this code will unlock the information, making it legible again.

One of the most common types of encryptions is SSL, or secure sockets layer. Chances are, you’ve seen SSL in action while online. The ‘s’ in the ‘https’ on most websites also stands for SSL. This allows users to send and receive information from a website more securely. Most commonly, this is used for safer shopping online.

Encryption may seem like overkill to many internet users, but there are tons of benefits to using it. Most people wish to have their internet communications be read by only those for whom the message is intended. Using an unsecured method of messaging, however, does not ensure this safety. Choose an encrypted messaging client to make sure that your communications are secure.

Finally, encryption can protect you from hackers. A decade ago, getting hacked was not a concern for the average citizen. Now, however, hacking is oftentimes instigated by massive, multinational corporations. Anyone who purchases items, does taxes or verifies their identity online is a potential target. There are more resources being dedicated to hacking individual internet users daily, but by using encryption, you are making yourself more immune to hacking.

Read More: How to Stay Anonymous Online [2019]

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