Why Privacy Is Essential on The Internet
The internet is a platform for information to flow freely and openly. However certain information must remain private. An internet that allows users to maintain their privacy, and control which information they share is better for all users.
Privacy helps the internet in many ways, these are a few key examples:
Privacy Offers Protection for Vulnerable Populations
Without protecting people’s identities on the internet, companies can directly target those that are most easily influenced. This includes young children and those with little experience using the internet. If your identity is easily discoverable, businesses will determine if you match their buyer profile and target you with ads. Access to private data allows groups to heavily influence people, whether in their purchasing behavior or political perspectives.
Privacy Encourages Free Speech & Freedom of the Press
While there are issues with people hiding their true identity online, in some cases it’s a necessity. For example, anonymous sources rely on privacy tools to keep their identities hidden. Without privacy these sources wouldn’t be willing to share the information that people need. If people don’t have to reveal their identity when speaking, they are free to speak more openly and critically, even if its against a person in power.
Objective News & Information Flow Freely With Privacy
Algorithmic websites have “improved” their methods of predicting what you are interested in and what you will click on. As a result, you are often only presented with a tailored sample of results rather than a complete perspective.
If people believe, or know, that their online activity is being watched, they may be less likely to seek out more information outside of the norm. The result of this is more narrow sighted information and less representation from different opinions outside the mainstream.
People voicing their opinions also benefit from privacy. If someone wants to criticize someone in a position of power, they are more willing to speak honestly and openly if they know their personal safety or reputation isn’t at risk.
From a technology standpoint, user privacy is essential in making the internet and its tools more neutral and objective. A key example of how a lack of privacy effects users is in big search engines that track users to determine which results to display. While it may seem like results similar to other sites you visit may be advantageous, actually this creates a filter bubble, where you only view information that you are likely to agree with.
Authoritarian Governments Are Limited If Data is Private
Citizens living under oppressive governments use privacy measures to circumvent government censorship. Under many of these governments, VPN use is illegal. However, people still use VPNs to access content that the government blocks. Not only do governments censor their internets, they use the internet as a tool for monitoring citizen behavior. Governments could potentially use data to influence public opinion and shut down opposition to the ruling party.
Privacy on the Internet Matters for People
Privacy gives people the power to decide what they share about themselves. If larger organizations or companies decided, their own interests could conflict with the users’. We saw this in the case of Facebook sharing information with third-parties, and the uproar that came as a result.
The social boundaries that we create for in-person interactions are intentional and important. If these same boundaries aren’t established and respected on the internet, people suffer the consequences. Privacy is how these lines get drawn and how they are enforced. When these lines are crossed, companies and users struggle to regain the trust of other users and the platforms they use.