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The Privacy Paradox; Do We Really Care About Privacy Online?

Every week, IT security blogs give out the same information to businesses and consumers: stay off public WiFi, use a VPN, and use a password manager

Published by Claire Broadley

Be honest: do you do all of these things, or do you let your security slip?

The privacy paradox is the idea that many of us know what we should be doing to protect our privacy, but we don’t always do it.

Are we sleepwalking into a situation when we’re exposing our personal data because we’re just too lazy to care?

Privacy and the Public -- Who Cares?

In the UK, perhaps the best example of the privacy paradox is the relative lack of protest over the Investigatory Powers Act -- more commonly known as the Snoopers’ Charter.

When the law was originally proposed, it was due to become law in 2013. At the time, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were in coalition, and the bill was blocked by the Lib Dems who cited objections to the levels of surveillance it would allow.

When it was eventually put back on the table in 2016, it had been modified, but still amounted to one of the most extreme surveillance laws anywhere in the world. The government said that it needed sweeping powers to access our online activity because it was becoming more difficult to get hold of data that would help solve crimes. But the law went far beyond this into the bulk collection of data for the entire nation. In theory, the law would also force businesses to put backdoors in encrypted services and open up browsing history to thousands of people working for a variety of agencies and police forces.

In a YouGov survey, 71% of Britons surveyed said they didn’t trust the government to handle their data securely. Yet the Charter became law with barely a whimper of protest among the general public.

The whole world was shocked when Edward Snowden revealed various secret state surveillance programs carried out between the UK and the USA, some of which were unlawful. Yet when laws like the Snoopers’ Charter legitimised very similar activities, nobody really seemed to care.

Who’s Collecting Your Data and Why?

Businesses know that gathering data is the key to advertising, marketing, and selling more effectively, so it’s highly valuable. Ever heard the phrase “you are the product”?

The personal data that they hold on you could also be used to secretly screen you and determine your suitability for jobs, insurance, healthcare, or benefits. Even those of us who are not voyeurs are contributing data to these kinds of databases simply by using the web.

 

The risk of exposing your personal information online are frequently underestimated. And the risk of joining networks with no security can lead to identity theft, data breaches, blackmail, stalking, and more. But often, we expose our most private information just by voluntarily signing up for sites and services that we barely know or trust.

Breaking the Paradox

Researchers aren’t sure why so many of us claim to care about privacy, and yet act as though we’re entirely safe online. Part of the problem may be the perceived convenience of going with the status quo, or the cost involved in purchasing services that protect privacy rather than harvesting data.

But it’s important to stay switched on to the risks and protect your privacy online if you don’t wish to become a tracked and traded digital profile on the internet.