In this digital age, where cell phones, computers, and tablets are always at hand, personal information is stored digitally, and the risk of data leakage is increasing. Privacy, security, and digital rights are the most discussed and important issues in the digital age. It even threatens our lives. Many activities in our daily life have been digitized, and personal information like our name, birth date, phone number, etc., becomes known in online shopping and social media. Likewise, some celebrities or YouTubers can be exposed by private fans who find their location because of location information leaked when uploading on Instagram or Twitter. Companies, governments, and other organizations are collecting and analyzing this data. Privacy concerns arise when personal data is used without consent or when individuals must be fully aware of how their data is collected and used. Privacy is an individual’s control and choice over information, not just about the confidentiality and security of information (Solove, 2002 & Warren, 2018). We have autonomy and control over our personal information and space; no one else should intrude on it. Data breaches, identity theft, and online harassment are some of the consequences of privacy violations. Breach of privacy seriously affects our daily lives.
In 2018, there were over 160 international references to privacy. Because each international, legal, and cultural context is different, the understanding of privacy is different. But governments and businesses must consider measures to protect their systems and the data they hold, and individuals must be vigilant about protecting their personal information. It is as basic a principle as common law that individuals should be adequately protected concerning their persons and property. Changes in government, society, and the economy require recognition of this new right. (Warren & Brandeis, 1890)
The Conveniences and Dangers of the Digital Age
Ten years ago, we needed to go to the supermarket to shop. Still, now we can not only shop online, but there also are various pop-up lists and algorithmic recommendations, and logistics are getting faster. Digital life is the connection and collaboration of users over time and space to improve decision-making. Big data creates high value. With the development of technology, the convenience of life has improved, and more and more needs can be solved simply by using the Internet. People will gather on large platforms for many different common interests. These interactions occur in a space that is neither wholly private nor completely public. (Suzor, 2019)
Many businesses and organizations use blockchain technology to store information. Because blockchain technology ensures the security and anonymity of data, it can be used to protect privacy. However, blockchain can also lead to privacy breaches because all transactions are public. Once a user’s identity is revealed, their privacy may be at risk.
Therefore, along with the many conveniences, we must be aware of some risks and take measures to keep our information secure. The increased risk of data leakage and security breaches accompanies the increased personal information stored digitally. Using unlimited public networks, online shopping, social media, downloading and installing untrusted software or clicking on malicious links, and using general devices in our daily life may lead to the leakage or theft of personal data information. Social media platforms use big data and algorithms to collect large amounts of user data for commercial purposes. Government agencies also sometimes collect and analyze large amounts of phone records, Internet search history, social media activity, etc., for some social security purposes.
Digital platforms collect and utilize a wide variety of user information. This information is highly granular and can directly reveal a user’s interests, beliefs, political leanings, personal, family, and social networks, location and frequently visited places, and spending habits. Some platforms, such as comprehensive social media sites like Facebook, collect information indirectly from users’ interactions with images and news stories. (Goggin et al., 2017)
While this information is generally used to develop personalized marketing strategies, it may also be used for discrimination, fraud, surveillance, or other malicious purposes.
Some of history’s most significant data breaches have also been massively publicized. However, those incidents that make it to the public eye are not always the worst. The first significant data breach, the Yahoo data breach of 2013, was by far the largest. Approximately 3 billion users were affected, and it’s almost comical that the malicious individuals involved in this particular data breach got the data of less than half of the world’s population. It included usernames, email addresses, phone numbers, hashed passwords, and security questions, though thankfully, no bank data was compromised.
The right to privacy is the cornerstone of individual freedom and social order. It requires legal and institutional protection (Westin, 1966). Protecting digital privacy requires that we be aware of what actions may lead to a breach. Individuals and businesses can take appropriate steps to protect our privacy. In addition, organizations should invest in cybersecurity measures such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and employee training programs. While the legal framework for privacy has evolved with the digital age, so has the legal framework for privacy in various countries and regions. Some laws may protect personal privacy, but their effectiveness in protecting privacy rights requires further regulation and enforcement.
A trade-off between benefits and risks
As for data privacy, there is a famous “privacy paradox.” Long Chen, the lead author of the Luohan Academy ,and Nobel Laureate Michael Spencer both mentioned that there is a “privacy paradox” in the behavior of users around the world (Boao Forum for Asia, 2021). Users are concerned about their privacy risks, but at the same time, they are willing to give up some of their private information for convenience.
The most extensive empirical study of big data conducted by Luohan Academy concluded that when digital service platforms give users complete freedom of choice, the user authorization rate is as high as 64%-86%, with an average authorization rate of over 75%. The more knowledgeable and rational male users of the Internet, younger users, and highly educated users are instead more open to sharing personal data. The digital economy is not fundamentally different from other areas in that users make thoroughly weighed decisions about sharing personal information. For example, the more sensitive the data is, the fewer users are willing to share it. This phenomenon suggests that users facing privacy decisions are still “rational people.”
However, in recent years, the cost of protecting data and privacy security worldwide has increased each year. There is still a lot of demand for personal privacy protection.
According to Michael Spencer, evolving technologies can help us enhance security. There is a balance to be struck in this process, not by simply blocking information away, but by finding technologies that support us to protect the data and leverage its value. We need better extensive data services, one of the most significant selling points. At the same time, users, of course, need better privacy protection.
Protecting personal data privacy and promoting data portability is one of the necessary conditions for developing a digital society and the key to building a credible digital economy. The digital age does pose a significant threat to our privacy. We need to strengthen awareness of personal data protection, and companies and governments must take measures to ensure that personal data is appropriately protected and prevent data misuse. For example, we need to increase network security awareness, use privacy protection tools, and limit the sharing of personal information. At the same time, governments and companies must take measures to protect individual privacy.
How to protect privacy in the digital age
One of the most common complaints about content censorship is that the rules need to be applied more relatively or consistently (Karppinen, 2017).
However, protecting privacy in the digital age requires efforts in many areas. The setting of the specific information and circulation conditions of the right to privacy must consider the reality and social expectations (Nissenbaum, 2004).
Citizens need to understand how personal data is collected and used and what it is used for. For example, by reading the privacy policies of apps and websites. Or by using strong passwords, enabling two-step authentication, and not performing sensitive actions on public Wi-Fi.
In addition, governments and businesses need to take steps to ensure that personal privacy is protected. The right to privacy is about protecting information and identity and involves many aspects, such as freedom, dignity, equality, and social relations (Warren, 2018).
Businesses and organizations need to ensure that the personal data they process is secure and that their privacy policies clearly state how that data will be used. In addition, they need to ensure public trust by transparently disclosing how data is collected and used. Governments and other agencies can take action to promote the reform of privacy regulations and compliance requirements to protect the privacy rights of individuals, for example, by introducing a legal framework for data protection and privacy protection, imposing penalties for non-compliance, and regulating how data is collected and used.
Raising public awareness is essential in reducing privacy threats in the digital age. Educational institutions can promote privacy protection through education and public awareness by providing training and resources to students and the public on how to protect the privacy of their data, identify phishing, and prevent social media scams.
Government agencies use digital technologies in the fight against terrorism, cybercrime, and other illegal activities. However, the data collected by government agencies in carrying out these tasks may include our personal information. Suppose government agencies do not comply with privacy protections or do not undergo proper vetting procedures. In that case, they may cause violations of our privacy rights. Therefore, the government must develop and implement privacy protection legal frameworks and regulations to protect personal data. The government can also develop appropriate regulatory mechanisms to ensure that companies and organizations comply with privacy regulations and compliance requirements.
Data privacy protection is ultimately an issue of data governance, which requires a better understanding of big data. If Big Data is a company, users, and platforms are important shareholders, which is the healthiest governance structure. Reducing threats to privacy in the digital age requires a multifaceted effort from governments, businesses, organizations, individuals, and educational institutions. Everyone must take responsibility to ensure that privacy in the digital age is adequately protected, including enhancing personal data security, understanding and controlling personal data, choosing trusted service providers, promoting reform of privacy regulations and compliance requirements, and raising public awareness.
Digital governance is a trade-off between benefits and risks. Data flows have contributed about 10 percent to global GDP growth over the past decade. Hence, the EU’s privacy law GDPR lists the free flow of personal data within the EU as an essential goal, second only to personal data protection. It is an international consensus to look at data governance with trade-off thinking. It is most effective to address data governance challenges with technical consideration. Since the difficulties in the era of big data originate from technology, the best response is to seek solutions through technology.
Unprecedented challenges have always accompanied significant breakthroughs in history. Still, in the end, technical solutions have always been found. With the right mechanism design and advanced technology, the trade-off between privacy risks and the benefits of data sharing can become manageable. The comprehensive analysis of the costs and benefits of trade is essentially economic thinking that seeks a middle ground. In the field of data governance, this is first and foremost an international consensus, with modern privacy protections originating in the U.S. Fair Information Practices, whose data governance today is not about locking up data and ownership within a static framework but about developing dynamic, continuous improvement principles for both the secure flow of data and the protection of individual privacy.
Since we enjoy the convenience brought by data life, we should also accept and tolerate some inconveniences. At the same time, individuals should raise their awareness of legal protection. Organizations should raise public awareness of information security. Enterprises and organizations should vigorously develop the technology. The government should issue some policies and regulations. Only by working together can we add to the development of the future of digital life.
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Nissenbaum, H. (2004). Privacy as contextual integrity. . Washington Law Review.
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Suzor, N. P. (2019). Lawless: The Secret Rules that govern our digital lives. Cambridge University Press.
Warren, M. A., & Darnell, J. S. (2018). The conceptualization of privacy. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1146/lawsocsci.2018.14.issue-1
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