How our Online Habits are being chased: The Data Dilemma

Are we losing Our Privacy Without recognizing it?

Think about our various online activities – messages, emails, searches, or even watching and enjoying a cat video or searching for the shoes we like most – as small breadcrumbs we give behind through our activities. Whenever again we scroll social media, watch videos, or do other activities online as chatting with friends, abruptly, we often encounter ads from brands dealing with cat food, or shoes brands or casually we remark on a new coffee shop, there will be targeted ads on all platforms whenever a visit visits. Spooky, right?  This appearance of the ads is not simply a coincidence; it depicts the concealed domain of data collection and a rising concern about the digital world’s privacy issues. It’s the realism of our digital age, where our online activities are being watched and phones are invariably collecting our personal information. 

Privacy became important for individuals as algorithmic systems which are data-hungry have been inserted into each aspect of society, shovelling in personal information. Marwick (2018) stated that the conception of “privacy” is purely proclaimed on the thought that a person has the right to be “let alone” from any disturbance and observations from others. Many individuals mind privacy is not merely concerned withrestriction on the access to their information, but also their control over the information which is accessible to others. This highlights a vital question:  are we giving up our privacy for the contrivance of the digital world? It is somewhat complex to answer this question which requires delving deeper into this world of digital privacy and rights. So, let go.

How Privacy Compromised

The tech industry and digital world in which we engage often operate on the principle of give-and-take in which individual could willingly or unwillingly share their data and information for specific services for example they could share e-mail addresses to access information on certain websites. On other occasions, we do even not know when our information is collected by companies. Think about a situation, when we provide our information but do not know how they use our information for instance, in search of employment or to apply for social services (Marwick, 2018). In the digital world, we see many services are free of cost, they actually not selling any product, but still earning- think- how? Actually, they sell our information to third parties which could be used for different purposes including commercial purposes. 

The misuse of the data is not merely a statistical inconvenience, it could be used for financial fraud for the business and for the individual and identity theft which could be used for social engineering attacks.  The cost of a data breach is even more for individuals – for instance, identity theft could induce financial hardship, hurt the credit score and even cause emotional distress.

There is more uncertainty regarding digital privacy in future due to more technological signs of progress such as artificial intelligence and facial recognition has increased even more concerns about how our data will be utilized in future.  Nevertheless, due to emerging awareness about the issue at individual, organizational and government levels, there is hope for betterment. 

A Current Stream of “Big Data”: The Loose of Privacy

You know, big data has a big impact- our everyday activities performed online produce a greater amount of datawhich is termed “Big Data”, ranging from our location, and search terms to determining our likes and dislikes, browsing history and even the message tone (Nissenbaum, 2018). In addition to online activities, cell phones have become small data vacuums, taking up data or information concerning our every movement. For instance, apps keep records of our browsing habits, location services track our movements, and yet apparently harmless apps such as fitness trackers gather our health data.  Subsequently, this information is then accumulated, examined, and employed to develop a detailed profile depicting who we are, estimating our likes, conduct and behaviour and even how we would act in the future, with an aim to impact our choices (Flew, 2018). It is just like surveillance on us which follows us in the digital world as a digital footprint.

Collected big data is used in different industries positively as well as negatively, as in healthcare, they analyse the medical records through the algorithm to predict the outbreaks of disease, develop the plan for personalized treatment, and research new drugs. In the finance sector, banks utilize big data to assess the credit scores of customers, detect fraud occurrencesand develop personalized financial products. In the retail industry, big data is being used to analyse the consumers’ online behaviour and purchase history which helps the retailers to personalize products, manage the inventory, and anticipate future purchasing trends.

From Targeted Ads to Chilling Effects: The Human Cost

The aftermaths of this data erosion could have significant implications. The activity of targeted advertising, although convenient, but could induce a feeling of manipulative and intrusive to us (Marwick, 2018).  More significantly, it arousesconcerns regarding discrimination and fairness, for instance, in ascenario wherein our online activity extends to biased job recommendations or higher insurance rates.

Privacy also safeguards our free expression rights, however, in the situation, wherein we care or we have fear of continuous surveillance, we may self-censor online activities and opinions or could keep off searching controversial topicswhich are against the human rights related to privacy protection and freedom of expression. As Karppinen (2017) has highlighted people sometimes feel restricted in their expressions of ideological and political interests and visions on the other hand, this is against the humane rights related to communicationand information-sharing policies. Are you aware of “Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” which describesthat every individual has the “right to freedom” of expressionand opinion, this right comprises opinions freedom without any hindrance and to look for, find and lend ideas and information by the use of any type of media. However, contemporary invisible restrictions on the freedom of expression mainly depict the “chilling effect” subverts the very basis of a tidy democracy (Tumber & Waisbord, 2017).

The Power Asymmetry between Platforms and Users, Who Makes the Rules?  

Have we any control over, this data collection and usage in the digital world? Here’s the catch. Mostly we have experiencedlittle control over this process. Users experience the complicated privacy policies composed in difficult legal terminology of different tech giants and social media platforms which is often not understandable for most of the users when they tick the agree to use boxes.  This control could be experienced in those situations when we hesitate to share something due to the feeling of being watched. As Suzor (2019) a legal scholar stated in the book “Lawless” as the “secret rules” which control our digital world. Suzor contends that big platforms or tech organizations function beneath their own rules prioritizing economic benefits over user privacy. Suzor has depicted fascinating instances ofprecisely how tech companies control our digital world by putting pressure on different powerful actors to control and censor the information flow over digital media. Neither big tech companies nor users have an apparent set of background rules to employ in the media world which makes it difficult for users to understand, the way in which information is used by companies without safeguarding their interests (Nissenbaum, 2018). This continuous data collection is also a lack of transparency in the digital world which makes it difficult for us to determine what’s going on with our data and how they used it.

The Cambridge Analytica Scandal: Case in Point

A good illustration of the lack of transparency could be the example of the “Cambridge Analytica scandal”.  The case depicts that during 2018, this firm gathered millions of Facebook users’ personal information without any permission or users’ knowledge which subsequently sold out to third parties utilized for the target political advertisement during the presidential election.  This instance spotlights the possible abuse of personal information, or data and the power imbalance between tech platforms and users (Flew, 2018). We have heard about the issues of fake news circulation, the manipulation of tech companies’ algorithms for political purposes, abuse of personal data, so-called privacy breaches, harassment of minorities and women, and so-called Russian involvement in the presidential election in 2016 through social media- all depict the misuse of online platforms and personal information for the political landscape.

What Can We Do? Taking Back Control

Privacy is not about merely concealing abashing online habits, it is all about control- control over, how we could control our personal information from misuse.  When organizationshave huge access to our personal information, they can control us, target us with advertising, and even limit our access to knowledge and information. Thus, the struggle for digital rights is almost more than simply safeguarding our online habits.  It is also related to ascertaining a more just and equitable digital future.  As already expressed, freedom of expression and access to information are basic human rights, and we cannot take them for granted in a digital world wherein personal information and data have significance.  Through the practice of accountability and transparency on the account of governments and tech companies could develop a digital world which is beneficial for everyone. There are ongoing concerns about digital rights as Karppinen has contended that privacy is a basic human right which should be safeguarded in the digital world. Therefore, it’s our right to determine who can access our data.  Thus, what could done to take control of our privacy in this digital age world?  There are some takeaways:

• We need to be privacy-savvy by taking time to realise the platforms’ privacy settings and restricting them on bound data collection. 

• Although privacy policies could be obtuse, however, scanning them could assist us in interpreting how our information/data is being utilized.

• We could take steps to support the organizations who contend for user privacy and make accountable tech companies for such breaches of data such as the “Electronic Frontier Foundation”. 

• There would be a social movement on social media platforms asking tech companies to adopt transparency in data collection and use. 

• There is a need to urge for appropriate data protection lawsand regulations from the governing authorities.

• There is a need to enhance our and others’ knowledge about privacy concerns to develop harmony among all stakeholders on the matters of data and information privacy. 

The Takeaway

The digital world extends incredible opportunities, however, it follows a cost – the cost in the shape of privacy erosion.  By realizing the consequences and taking appropriate action, we could repossess our control over data and ascertain the digital world brings benefits for us, not abuse us.   Knowledge is power, remember, in this digital world, our privacy deserves protection.The struggle for digital rights is almost more than simply safeguarding our online habits.

It’s the realism of our digital age, where our online activities are being watched and phones are invariably collecting our personal information. It is just like surveillance on us which follows us in the digital world as a digital footprint. The misuse of the data or abuse of information is not merely a statistical inconvenience, it has huge human costs as well. Privacy is a central human right similar to freedom of speech. It allows us to verbalize ourselves freely, have control over personal information, and use the digital world to have a feeling of autonomy. When the struggle for digital privacy is on fire, by assuming different steps, we could reform our control of data and ascertain a more just and secure digital future. Privacy is a Right, Not a Privilege.

We need a flourishing, diverse, and vibrant digital platform and internet which could safeguard our basic rights from the lawless control of the big tech companies. For the protection of our privacy, we need to consider the Human rights aspect of having opinions, expressing of thoughts and interacting with the required information. Human rights could guide us in formulating effective governance processes.


Flew, T. (2018). Platforms on trial. Intermedia, 46(2), 24-29. 

Karppinen, K. (2017). Human rights and the digital. In The Routledge companion to media and human rights (pp. 95-103). Routledge. 

Marwick, A. E. (2018). Privacy at the margins| understanding privacy at the margins—introduction. International Journal of Communication, 12, 9. 

Nissenbaum, H. (2018). Respecting context to protect privacy: Why meaning matters. Science and engineering ethics,24(3), 831-852. 

Suzor, N. P. (2019). Lawless: The secret rules that govern our digital lives. Cambridge University Press. 

Tumber, H., & Waisbord, S. R. (2017). The Routledge companion to media and human rights. Routledge London.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply