The Truth About Privacy In The Digital Age

by Elijah DeRoche, United World College Maastricht
12th of December, 2018

If you were to guess, how much of your personal information would you consider private? Your identity? Your deepest secrets? Well, truthfully, nearly nothing is. In light of a recent breach of our school’s network, I began to think about the level at which my personal details have accumulated online. My credit card, passport details, social security number, and even some of my most intimate conversations have all been archived online, and with the right skills, are easily accessible.
We have been born and raised in two relatively different eras. When we were young, the internet and social media were still developing. Touchscreen phones were a thing of the future, and while my house had a desktop computer, it collected dust in the basement. Today, I use my laptop every day and carry my phone everywhere I go. I can talk to my friends and family overseas as easily as I can with my floormates. While there is a debate on whether this digital shift has made us more connected or disconnected, it has undoubtedly become a telling aspect of our lives. It has also drawn us out. Spread our identity and self, like threads in a network of data.
Some of us have built lives online. Found romantic partners, searched for jobs, made friends and applied to universities. If you consider the structure of information that is digitally present, you can start to understand the extent to which you, your identity, are available. Thousands of photos and emails, chats, and recordings. We know that nothing is free. Every service has a cost of sorts, and by signing that “free” app’s privacy agreement, you are agreeing for the storage and trade of your information. This becomes increasingly concerning when the online world transcends into the offline world. Your addresses, family information and more are all saved online, and without many searches, can be found. Your phone allows for your every movement to be tracked, even with location services off, and there have even been tests suggesting that Google can access your computer’s microphone, allowing the program to record your conversations, even when the application is not open. Sounds like 1984, doesn’t it? The amount of information that prying individuals, let alone big corporations, have access to is concerning, to say the least.
The most common argument against consideration for this accessibility that I’ve heard is “Why should I care? I have nothing harmful online.” This is not particularly true. Considering that the only the information online that I am aware of is about myself, I know that without extensive expertise and time, my emails, both personal and school, could be compromised, allowing any person to communicate under my alias. Next could be my facebook; a trove of conversations, photos, addresses, passwords, and other details. My credit card number, university applications and social security details, all accessible. The list goes on. While we shouldn’t live in fear of the internet, I think we have become blind. Blind to the reach of our online presence, and most of all, blind to the possible consequences. In this digital era, it is crucial to be aware of our online presence in regards to the image we want to uphold and stay up to date in protecting our information and personal lives.