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Why Privacy Matters for You

Privacy has become a buzzword in recent years as news headlines regularly cover data breaches, social media scandals, facial recognition programs, and more. But how do these headlines affect your day-to-day life?

Teen using computer
Image credit: Flickr user VIA Agency

You share data every day, through the apps you use on your phone, the websites you visit, and the credit cards you use, as well as cameras and other tools that capture your movement and location. A lot of the time, data is collected and shared in the background, with no way for you to know it’s happening.

This data is often used by companies to create targeted advertising, but we’re increasingly seeing examples of data being used to make important decisions. For example, Target used customer data to create an algorithm that predicts whether a woman is pregnant, as well as her due date [1]. Amazon recently patented a technology that would let its Alexa personal assistant device act like a doctor and diagnose you based on verbal cues captured by the device [2]. Researchers have suggested that social media posts can predict a range of health conditions, from diabetes to alcoholism and mental health disorders [3].

While some of these advances may help with our health and wellness, there is a darker side to this data collection and analysis. What if your social media posts were used to make hiring and firing decisions? What if your HR department gave you a Fitbit, then used the data to increase your premiums? These scenarios are not movie plotlines, but are already happening.

Whether you use social media or online banking or any of the various digital tools out there, you should be able to make informed decisions about what data you share and what happens to that data once you share it.


[1] The Incredible Story Of How Target Exposed A Teen Girl’s Pregnancy: https://www.businessinsider.com/the-incredible-story-of-how-target-exposed-a-teen-girls-pregnancy-2012-2

[2] Amazon patents new Alexa feature that knows when you’re ill and offers you medicine: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2018/10/09/amazon-patents-new-alexa-feature-knows-offers-medicine/

[3] Facebook posts could help doctors spot alcoholism, diabetes or depression, study says: https://www.cnet.com/news/facebook-activity-might-help-predict-mental-and-physical-health-study-says/