What is Privacy?
Privacy is one of those things in life that you don’t realize how lucky you are to have – until the moment it is gone. This probably happens because at this point in history, it’s become a part of life that everyone expects and deserves the right to. Privacy is taken for granted, but is really a luxury that doesn’t receive as much appreciation as it should. Imagine a life with no privacy? This would mean that everyone knew everything about everyone and you could do nothing to hide from it. What if people could see your every move online or access any and all information pertaining to you? I’m sure you would feel as if you were being intruded on. It goes without saying that this definitely wouldn’t be a pleasant feeling.
The rise of big data especially has made privacy an even more concerning topic as of late. With masses of information being collected at increasing rates about more and more topics, you’ve got to think where all this data is kept, as well as how secure it is. Think about all of the data contained by companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft. There’s so much in fact, that it requires intense cooling systems just to keep the data storage facilities from overheating. It was also recently announced that these five companies will join together in collaboration regarding the progress of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Think about all the potential privacy issues here if something were to go wrong. These companies track a large portion of people’s lives, specifically their digital activity. You could probably form quite a vivid idea of what a person could be like just using the data collected by each of these companies. Whether that’s browsing the web using Google Chrome, sending messages to friends on Facebook or all of the important files you’ve created with Microsoft. Not all data is meant to be in the hands of everyone, especially if it’s for self-serving purposes at the detriment of others.
If you think that these companies have a lot of information, there are organisations with even more – in other words, government organisations. Look at movies like Snowden that discuss how peoples’ privacy rights are being violated on a daily basis. The entire plot and script is based off of the idea that a nationwide breach of privacy has occurred in the USA. This isn’t just based on the fiction of someone’s imagination either. Rather many of the events actually happened and were inspired by real life experiences. Specifically, the whole ordeal involving Edward Snowden resulted in him being a whistleblower on the National Security Agency (NSA), who supposedly records everything – and by everything, we literally mean everything that they can possibly measure or track. Without surprise, when these events came to the public’s attention it caused extreme controversy. So much so that it even caused Snowden to flee the country in fear for his safety. This just goes to show how much people expect the right to privacy. The fact that a man put his life on the line to help the people of his nation realise that their privacy was being violated should not be taken lightly. It demonstrates just how important of an issue this is.
Although it hasn’t inspired the creation of any movies – or at least yet – recent events involving large corporations like Yahoo also revolve around privacy concerns. The company was the latest target of what is thought to be the largest cybersecurity hack in the history of the Internet. Personal user information, luckily not including financially related details were exposed for some 500 million Yahoo users. To put it into scale, this is roughly half of the entire database of current Yahoo accounts. The result of this privacy breach is that these half a billion users could likely be at the risk of further damage. In this case, people expected privacy regarding the personal information they provided the company when signing up for accounts to use its services. The information was handed over for the company to use in identifying the user account, not for it to end up in the hands of a cybercriminal who can essentially do anything with it – including sell it to more people. Matters like these are not taken lightly as the whole situation has blown up under public scrutiny.
Yahoo was not the first target though, this summer specifically seemed to be filled with more cyber breaches than normal and has affected many companies along the way. We can only expect for these types of attacks against people’s privacy to rise – specifically by going after companies as their first point of access. With the rise of more and more online businesses, hackers are shifting their sights from large corporations to the smaller companies as well. Although these smaller companies likely do not contain the same masses of information as companies like Yahoo, they’re security measures are typically less extensive and easier to penetrate. Hackers could compensate in data volume, by targeting smaller businesses more often that have a higher success rate. That being said, it is extremely important for businesses and individuals to beef up the security measures that they take when on and offline. You need to protect the sensitive information that you are trusted with, as well as protect your customers. By protecting your customers you are also protecting yourself – not only from attack, but also from losing customer trust and loyalty. Given that we’ve established that privacy is expected nowadays, consumers will lose trust in a company that can’t offer them privacy from potential intruders.
Privacy comes in many different forms. If you don’t believe me, think about all the different parts of your life and daily routine that you require privacy for. It can refer to a desire for solitude, secrecy, anonymity and reserve (both personally and intimately). It’s important that people have access to each of these forms of privacy when desired. Let’s dig a little deeper as to what is meant by each of these privacy types.
- Solitude: This is the type of privacy where you want to be alone and isolated from others by choice. You could achieve this by seeking solitude in your own home, as everyone has the right to their own private property. In the case that someone tried to take this away from you by trespassing into your house, they could and would be punished by law. I’m sure we can all think of times where we long for solitude. From a business perspective, an example would be to seek solitude in your home from cold callers and other forms of direct marketing. You have the right to be in your home and to not be bothered if you so choose.
- Secrecy: This type of privacy refers to choosing not to disclose certain information. From the days of our youth when we were told that secrets don’t make friends, there are certain times when secrecy is desired. In fact there are many times where we choose to exercise secrecy, one example being an employee choosing to keep their personal life separate from business affairs.
- Anonymity: This is the type of privacy exercised when you choose not to disclose your identity. One example of this type of privacy in action occurs during election time. While collecting polls, everyone’s entry is submitted anonymously. There are a countless number of other situations where an individual may choose to remain anonymous. Another example would be during a survey that may collect sensitive information – these don’t always require that you identify yourself or that your identity will be revealed.
- Reserve: This type of privacy is preventing access to your personal information or intimate life by others. You are able to choose what you do and do not grant access to. Also, you can determine what information is accessible and what isn’t. This type of privacy most commonly occurs in situations that are relevant to patient confidentiality. Typically, you choose to not allow anyone except the doctor to view this information. Although, there may be situations in which you grant the doctor permission to share it with select individuals, such as other medical professionals.
From a business perspective, it’s important that you respect these privacy needs from your customers. Otherwise, you aren’t going to be around and operating for very long. When you do collect personal data from customers, it’s also important that you protect their privacy since they’re trusting you with sensitive information.
Invasion of Privacy
I’m sure we can all think back to our teenage days when we thought that an invasion of privacy was when our parents wanted to know too much about our personal lives. Nowadays, this comes in the form of parents sneaking around their children’s social media profiles to keep an eye on them. Hence, this is a reason that many kids choose not to add their parents or use networks that their parents may have. Obviously, the technologies we use today provide more options for privacy invasions.
In a broad sense, an invasion of privacy is any type of intrusion into someone’s personal life without a legitimate reason. The person being invaded has a right to sue for any damages caused as a result. For example, the recent Yahoo privacy-related incident has led to a situation where they are facing a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of those affected by the recent hack.
The ways in which privacy must be protected from hackers is growing with technology. In the past, a privacy invasion could be that someone takes old bills out of your garbage can. Now, people can invade your privacy using digital means. In other words, people can hack into personal computers and even business databases in order to expose the personal data of its customers.
As always, there are certain measures that you can personally take to help ensure your privacy is respected. If you’re wondering about these measures you can use to protect yourself, here they are:
- Destroy sensitive, confidential documents or ones that contain those types of information. You will protect yourself and anyone else who could be affected by the data on the sheet.
- Assess whether those you are trusting your personal information with can be trusted and are capable of protecting your privacy.
- Keep passwords hidden and safe in your possession. Also, have unique password for each of your accounts.
So if you do become a victim of a privacy invasion, how will you know or be affected by it?
Well, it really depends on the specific situation. In order to detect a privacy breach it varies with the context. In some cases it will be painfully obvious, while others will be discrete and surprise you one day – mind you, it probably won’t be in a good way. The effects can range from minor to severe depending on the contents and sensitivity of anything compromised in the privacy invasion.
Here are some examples of how you could realize you’re a victim of a privacy invasion:
- Someone enters your house without your permission when you are home.
- You are blackmailed based on a stolen piece of private information.
- Your personal information is being used for fake accounts online and offline.
- Random transactions keep appearing on credit and debit card statements.
In the case that you are a victim of an invasion of privacy, you will want to know how to report it. If your invasion of privacy relates to data protection, the ICO is where you should turn to if you live in the UK. This could involve anything from online data or physical data kept on hand like medical facilities, psychiatrist offices and so on.
If your physical privacy is being violated, then you should turn to the local authorities for assistance. Everyone has the right to privacy given that they respect everyone else’s privacy. This applies on an individual level and a business level, as well as all aspects of life. Cherish it and don’t take it for granted – privacy really is a lovely thing.