Data Privacy Cartoon

Image Courtesy of Thierry Gregorius (Space & Light), Flickr

By Kelsi Klaers

With few exceptions, Americans have an “online presence.”  We use our computers and mobile devices to send emails, post to social media accounts, look things up, follow the news, apply for services, shop, bank, and even pay taxes online.

All of these activities result in the online collection and storage of our private data.

Who’s storing it?  And, more importantly, who’s keeping it safe?

There are three major players: individuals, companies, and the government.  Companies and government do the lion’s share of data storage.  Let’s work backwards and start with government.  There are a number of laws that protect your private data from the government.  There are also laws that protect your private data from companies.  However, the reality is that the pace of emerging technologies often outstrips the pace of law-making, and it’s difficult to regulate something before it’s created.  This leaves the burden of protecting private online data largely on the individual.  Unfortunately, not all individuals are equally equipped to protect their own private data.

Still curious? Check out this USA Today article, “Why new laws are needed post-Snowden,” posted by a classmate to our course Moodle site.

Why does this seem like a non-issue to most Americans? 

Most Americans are not fully aware of the extent to which their private data is being used online.  Among those that have at least some idea, many are apathetic, possibly because they feel helpless to do anything about it.

What are the arguments for choosing to share or suppress private data?

Sharing private data might be elected when it is determined to be in the best interest of the individual.  For example, they may be willing to share their email address with an airline in exchange for the ability to receive their plane ticket electronically and bypass one of the airport’s many lines.  In a more altruistic vein, a cell phone user may choose to share their physical location by GPS for the sake of creating real-time traffic maps.

Conversely, suppressing private data may be selected when it is determined not to be in the best interest of the individual.  Specifically, when the individual is receiving nothing in return or the data requested is irrelevant to the good/service being provided in exchange.

Lingering Question: What is a privacy audit? 

A privacy audit is imposed by the Federal Trade Commission to evaluate how an organization is using an individual’s private data (e.g. aggregated or repurposed) both internally and externally.   For more info, check out this Forbes article.

Resource List: Data Privacy