Finding a balance between protecting privacy and sharing information is a big problem in today’s digital age. With the growth of the Internet, many mobile Internet apps have been made that help people in many ways, such as making friends, shopping, having fun, and doing office work. People are increasingly dependent on digital technology. For example, if you want to download a specific APP, you must authorise a lot of personal information first. Otherwise, you cannot use it. You will soon receive a detailed push advertisement if you casually mention a particular product. If you receive a photo of a sports shoe on your mobile phone, the shopping software will start pushing various sports shoes. Inadvertently, people’s private information, Inadvertently, people’s private information, “web footprints,” etc., are being “stolen” or even abused.
However, at the same time, we are becoming more worried about our privacy and the security of our personal information because of the risks and dangers that can come with privacy breaches. We do not want our data to be used or hacked by people who shouldn’t, nor do we want our online activities to be tracked or watched too much. In the past few years, there have been several privacy breaches. For example, Zoom gave information about its users to third parties without their knowledge. Google broke the Children’s Privacy Protection Act, and Facebook was fined for helping Cambridge Analytica collect data. In China, a study showed that as many as 48% of Internet users were concerned about their privacy and security on social networks (liberty global,2017 ). According to another study, 40% of users have uninstalled at least one social media application in the past year due to concerns about privacy breaches (Handley,2018).
The trade-off between privacy protection and information sharing is challenging, as the two are often at odds. Information sharing will be constrained by maintaining privacy, hindering innovation in business and society. Conversely, excessive information sharing can lead to privacy breaches and misuse of personal data, undermining the protection of people’s rights and trust. Therefore, it is crucial to strike a balance between privacy protection and information sharing, which requires the joint efforts of the government, businesses, individuals, and society. The solution to this problem involves a combination of factors, including but not limited to technology, law, ethics, and culture, to find a practical and sustainable balance.
Why this issue is important?
In the digital age, it’s essential to find a balance between protecting the privacy and sharing information. It concerns everyone’s rights and freedoms, the constant innovation and growth of business and society, and the long-term development of the digital economy and society worldwide.
First, everyone must have the right to privacy to keep their freedom and dignity. Today, people care more and more about their privacy, which has become one of the most basic human rights. If someone’s privacy is invaded, they might feel upset and unsafe, leading to mental and physical health problems. Second, citizens need solitude to be legally safe because it gives them more time to consider whether their actions are legal and meet constitutional requirements. Also, privacy is essential for a democratic society because it lets people speak and talk freely without worrying about being watched or hurt.
However, as digital technology develops quickly, our personal information and digital footprint become more valuable. This means privacy breaches, misuse, and other problems happen more often. Unauthorised access to or illegal use of other people’s information is rife on the Internet and has become a severe problem. This creates the risk of identity theft, fraud, and other crimes, threatening people’s financial and personal security. It is also easy for this information to be collected and used illegally to cause damage or affect national interests. The public will be reluctant to share information with companies or organisations if they do not believe they can adequately use their data, thus constraining innovation in business and society. Protecting the privacy and security of personal data is, therefore, one of the critical issues that need to be addressed through the combined efforts of governments, businesses, and individuals. It is also crucial for organisations to better understand the needs of their customers and markets and to provide better products and services.
Reasons for the imbalance between privacy protection and information sharing
Privacy protection is keeping the information you’d like to keep to yourself from getting into the hands of companies, hackers, government organizations, and other groups(Encrypt, 2021).
The first reason is that the blurring of privacy lines has become a big problem since the digital age. Personal information is made anonymous and then mixed with other personal data to create a mass of data that people and platforms share. This makes it harder to tell where the private and public domains end and where they begin. Also, the digitisation of privacy in algorithmic communication makes it easier for people to abuse personal information. Mark Post thinks that in the postmodern world, how technology dominates power in databases blurs the lines between private and public space. This makes it possible to keep track of everyone and control them constantly. In this way of being in charge, no one can get away from the rules and management of the remote power system. In the era of big data, the user is in a panoramic prison, where all information is visible to the monitor,” who has the technology. The “monitors,” with their technical and algorithmic skills, can easily access the user’s private information without the user’s knowledge, control, or escape. Therefore, the importance of privacy is self-evident, but the challenge is to strike a balance between privacy protection and information sharing.
The second reason is that platforms do not protect users’ privacy well. Social media platforms have inadequate security levels and outdated security measures to store users’ information properly, leading to information leakage. With the popularity of social media, users are increasingly relying on social media platforms to keep in touch with family and friends in their daily lives and to share photos, videos, and other information about their lives. 2009, a Facebook-based study showed that 99.3% of internet users would use their real names on social media sites, 94.7% exposed their school information on social media sites, 92.2% revealed their birthday, 83.1% revealed their email address, and 98.7% indicated their photo (Alyson,2009). However, some social networking platforms’ privacy protection measures are inadequate, posing potential risks to users’ privacy and security.
In addition to not having enough security, some platforms may violate their users’ privacy for business reasons. For example, some social networking platforms may sell users’ personal information to third parties for advertising and marketing purposes. In addition, some platforms may also analyse users’ behaviour and interests for commercial gain, which may involve user privacy and data security.
Many real-world examples of poor platform privacy protection lead to user information breaches. For example, the 2018 Facebook data breach exposed the personal data of 87 million users, including their names, birthdays, educational backgrounds, work information, and other sensitive information. In addition, the 2019 Capital One Bank customer information breach compromised more than 100 million customers’ data, including names, addresses, dates of birth, national insurance numbers, and credit card information.
The third reason is that it is now easier to get and share information, and collective voyeurism has grown on the Internet. People even search for and trade human flesh, which is a significant cause of privacy leaks because it allows them to get information about other people and break their privacy. With the implementation of the policy for preventing and controlling epidemics, the trajectories of infected people were made public to help the public understand the risk of infection. Still, under the effect of voyeurism, many netizens were excessively concerned about the private lives of infected persons, disrespecting their privacy and even disclosing their personal information, allowing incidents of online violence and rumour-mongering to occur. These phenomena reflect the poor privacy literacy of Internet users, and the lack of respect for others’ privacy has become a significant source of online violence and information leakage.
A practical example is the personal information leak of Miss Zhao in Chengdu, China. As she visited several bars within a few days, it attracted the attention of netizens. Subsequently, various unverifiable videos and texts appeared on the Internet claiming that Miss Zhao was in a unique profession, leading to the widespread dissemination of her personal information and attracting many Internet users to engage in cyber violence against her. This case is a good illustration of the conflict between privacy protection and information sharing and reveals the low level of privacy literacy among Internet users.
Achieving a balance between privacy protection and information sharing
The government should tighten laws and rules. The government can improve regulations and laws about protecting personal information by setting clear rules about collecting, using, storing, and getting rid of personal information. It can also impose penalties for illegally getting, leaking, or abusing personal information. Promote privacy-protecting technologies. The government can encourage and support the development and use of privacy-protecting technologies, such as encryption technology, de-identification technology, secure computing, etc., to provide technical safeguards for protecting personal information and promote the safe circulation and sharing of information. Strengthening education about information security: The government can do a lot of publicity and instruction to get people to pay more attention to protecting personal data, teach people how to take care of their own information security and lower the risk of personal information getting out. Guiding the development of the digital economy: The government can encourage the development of the digital economy, improve digitalisation, promote digital transformation, build digital infrastructure, promote the deep integration of digital technology and traditional industries, and achieve high-quality development of the digital economy. Strengthening international cooperation: The government can strengthen international cooperation, establish a transnational personal information protection cooperation mechanism, and work with other countries to promote the development and promotion of global personal information protection standards and jointly safeguard the security of personal information and privacy rights worldwide.
Users also need to learn more about the Internet and how to use technology, protect their personal information, and understand how essential user agreements are for protecting their rights. It is also important to be careful and not give out personal information carelessly. Use third-party applications with caution. Avoid using untrusted third-party applications so that personal data is not obtained illegally. Set privacy permissions for mobile phones, computers, and other devices reasonably to avoid unnecessary disclosure of personal information. Please change your password regularly and increase its strength to improve the security of your account. Avoid leaking bank card information to untrusted organisations or individuals to prevent malicious skimming. Keep abreast of personal information leaks to prevent unscrupulous individuals from using personal data.
In addition, platforms, as intermediaries in the flow of information, should also take up their responsibilities to prevent malicious behaviour and the risk of information leakage by encrypting and managing user data and screening information through technical means while providing users with clear privacy protection agreements and transparent information disclosure to enhance their trust and satisfaction with the platform.
The trade-off between protecting privacy and sharing information is a complicated issue that requires everyone to work together. At the individual level, improving information security awareness and skills is essential to maintaining personal information security effectively. At the platform level, people must take the initiative to take responsibility and establish clear privacy policies and rules for information use. At the same time, platforms should use technical means to protect the security and privacy of personal information, such as encryption and desensitisation. At the government level, relevant regulations and norms should be introduced to clarify the boundaries of using and sharing personal data while increasing supervision and enforcement of corresponding enterprises and organisations to prevent misuse of personal information and maximise the protection of the public interest. Only in this way can comprehensive protection of personal information privacy be achieved in the information age while facilitating information flow and sharing and promoting the digital economy’s healthy development.
Alyson L. Young The University of Western Ontario, Young, A. L., Ontario, T. U. of W., Anabel Quan-Haase The University of Western Ontario, Quan-Haase, A., College of Information Sciences and Technology, & Metrics, O. M. V. A. (2009, June 1). Information revelation and internet privacy concerns on social network sites: Proceedings of the fourth international conference on communities and technologies. ACM Other conferences. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/1556460.1556499
Encrypt, S. (2021, March 25). What is privacy protection? [updated for 2021]. Choose To Encrypt. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from http://choosetoencrypt.com/privacy/what-is-privacy-protection/
Handley, L. (2018, June 18). Four in 10 people have deleted a social media account in the past year due to privacy worries, study says. CNBC. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/18/people-are-deleting-social-media-accounts-due-to-privacy-worries.html
The value of our digital identity – liberty global. (2017, June 6). Retrieved April 11, 2023, from https://www.libertyglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/The-Value-of-Our-Digital-Identity.pdf