The other day, I sent someone a link to talk me on Signal, my most used chat app. They responded with, “Nothing I’m saying is secret. Do you mind if we text instead?”
That really made me stop and think about what digital privacy actually means. Is digital privacy only for the discreet and those with something to hide? Or is it something that the everyday person should be aware of and value in their increasingly digital life?
I have a feeling a lot of people confuse using data privacy tools, such as Signal and HEY, with wanting to keep secrets.
I’ll let you in on a little something — data privacy is much much more than that.
“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
With the ongoing spread and expansion of social media, the world consisting of more digital natives, and the rise of engagement tracking tools that capture our personal data and online behavioral patterns, it’s important that we begin to evaluate the role of digital privacy in our lives.
If early Web 2 was about finding digital fame through Instagram and TikTok, I wholeheartedly believe that digital privacy will be the premier trend for all digital users in the coming years.
Guess what? There are tons of great privacy tools being built today that are amazingly beautiful products. And it’s only going to get better.
A few killer digital privacy products you can begin using today are:
BONUS: If you’re a super nerd like me, check out Fathom Analytics for amazingly actionable and privacy focused website visitor data.
The Need For Education On The Matter
Okay, okay. I get it. Someone who’s made a career in tech and using data to maximize growth for companies with digital marketing, it’s a little silly for me to be preaching about the need for digital privacy.
But I think there’s a nice in-between place that can all accomplish. Do I think personalized ads and services are great? Absolutely. Do you remember what life pre-personalized and targeted ads was like? It fucking sucked. Spam city.
Does that mean that every piece of our lives should be collected, stored, analyzed, and used to persuade us? No, I definitely don’t think that. In fact, I think there are a few sacred things that we should be focusing on here – mainly being private communication and general online behavior.
But what data is collected on the web? Is that why whenever my wife and I talk about going to Disneyland, we get served an ad for it almost instantaneously on social media?
Those are some questions you may be asking yourself right about now. Let’s dive into what data is actually collected from you on the web.
What Data Is Collected?
Whether you’re casually browsing the internet or doom-scrolling social media, here are a few data points that are being collected about your passive digital behavior:
- IP addresses to determine a user’s location.
- Information about how the user interacts with websites. For example, what they click on and how long they spend on a page.
- Information about browsers and the device the user access the site with.
- Browsing activity across different sites.
- Personal information used to create an account
- Information in content you upload like location or photo information
- Information in content other people upload about you
- How you use the site, what you engage with, and who you talk to
- Transactions through Facebook, such as in games or through Marketplace
- Device information like IP address, operating system, and network data
- Information from third-parties who use Meta features such as the Meta pixel
- Payment Transactions
- Search History
- Phone Contacts
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Who Is My Data Shared With?
This is who all of that data is shared with via marketing platforms, albeit social, display, programmatic, AI, or whatever other fancy marketing tool modern performance marketers utilize.
For a digital marketer like myself, this data really comes in handy – especially with targeted social and YouTube advertising.
Here’s a list of with whom all that juicy data is shared with:
- Data measurement companies
- Vendors and service providers
- Researchers and academics
- Law enforcement
- Google “affiliates”, meaning their entire suite of companies
- “Over 2 million non-Google websites” who run ads through Google
- Business partners like other social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc.)
- Payment providers
- Service providers and analytics companies
- TikTok / probably the Chinese government
For a full breakdown of what data each social network collects, see this great list here.
Why You Should Care About Digital Privacy
1. Your Behavior Is Being Conditioned
2. At Some Point, You’ll Have Something To Hide
I feel bad for 100% digital natives these days. I grew up where the shit I did in middle and high school was just a rumor (Facebook didn’t become mega popular until I graduated in 2006).
But now, with kids tracking every second of their lives on the internet, there is no hiding or being able to grow as a human without your past having a forever-lasting presence for others.
3. Surveillance Is Changing… Constantly!
Whether for good or for evil, we are under constant surveillance. I don’t want to live in a 24/7/365 monitored state of being; especially when it’s monitoring everything.
Article to read: Researchers Can Tell If You’re Having A Stroke By Your iPhone Habits
Sometimes, when I think about the negative side of data usage, I think about a person searching up pre-diagnosed cancer side effects. From there, an insurance company could use your IoT data from your Oura Ring and pair it with your Google search history to see that something might be off with your health. Then, when you go in for your official diagnosis and insurance does it’s thing, it could make preconceived notions about what you should be charged (because why wouldn’t they milk someone in a life-or-death situation for all their worth?).
Okay, that might be a little drastic, but those are some of the possibilities that run through my head.
Want to dive deeper? Watch ‘The Great Hack’ on Netflix
Want to learn about how Google makes money off your data, but from someone funny? Here’s a clip of Russel Brand sharing about digital privacy ->
Okay, back to my post…
My Opinion On The Subject
Listen, I’m not saying to go hyper-paranoid on all of us. I am saying be aware. Not everything you say, do, look at, buy, browse, write, or even come across should be tracked indefinitely and added to your digital file.
Start using Signal for privacy texts and try using an email service like HEY or Protonmail so your daily communications are at least a little bit sacred.
Don’t be crippled by the lack of digital privacy, just make the changes that slowly get you parts of your life back in your hands.
Honestly, that’s the most promising feature of the Web3 future – being able to be the owner of your data and putting privacy first. The days of wanting to be a social media star are going by the wayside, while the days of wanting privacy will be the new mountain peak to reach.
Until next time ✌️