Digitalisation and Privacy: Effects On Our Daily Lives

“I used to say that Google knows more about me than my wife does, but that doesn’t go far enough. Google knows me even better, because Google has perfect memory in a way that people don’t.” (qtd. in Mineo). 

The digital revolution is the fourth industrial revolution society is going through (Schwab). Since the internet is convenient and accessible, many users log onto the internet, therefore willingly and thoughtlessly giving away their personal information. During an interview with Gazette, Bruce Schneier, an advisor to IBM Security stated that “People need to own credit cards, carry cell phones, and have email addresses […]. That’s what it takes to be a fully functioning human being in the early 21st century.” (qtd. in Mineo). With the digital revolution comes the inevitable limitation to our personal privacy, which affects a human being’s daily life in many ways. The causes for this breach of privacy is that digitalisation allows governments to keep surveillance of its citizens, and it also allows companies to collect personal data of internet users through the use of online cookies. Another cause of this issue is that people are not educated about how to online safety and how their data is used. Personally, I think governments keeping surveillance of its residents is the most significant cause that impacts our daily lives. This is because people don’t have a say in whether the government keeps them under surveillance them or not, but the people can consent to accept online cookies. In her portfolio blog for her university, NUS, Paulina stated that “People feel like the internet gives then some anonymity, a false sense of security, therefore people are more cautious about revealing their private information in real life than online.” (Choo Cheng Mun). With the increase of internet users, more people are vulnerable to cyber attacks. With digitalisation, we risk our privacy, and the big debate online privacy continues on to this day. In this report, I will be talking about how the rapid growth of the internet and its subsequent limitations to our personal privacy affects our daily lives. Multiple people think that the internet’s effect on our personal privacy has a negative impact on our safety, while others think that it hinders the wellbeing of internet users. On the more positive side, some people think that the internet having access to our personal data helps to reveal signs of health concerns, while others think that the personal data collected can inform the government about possible threats to the society. 

With the rise of technology comes an inevitable invasion of our privacy. As we use the internet our data is being collected, we are always under constant surveillance by the internet (Schneier). This has a consequent negative impact on people’s safety. Everything we put on the internet stays there forever, therefore our information can get misused, making us unsafe. A woman in her early 20s got stalked through the internet and got killed, and thousands of people’s identities form online chat rooms are sold and traded (Sullivan). These are just some of the examples of how people’s safety get affected by the privacy breach due to the rapid growth of technology. A global perspective on this issue comes from Paulina, a student at NUS. She stated her opinions on internet privacy on her portfolio post for her university, stating that people put out large amounts of personal data on the internet such as their address, birthday, place of study or work (Choo Cheng Mun). This allows cybercriminals to easily find a new target by searching for them and stalking their internet information. This shows that our reckless actions, such as mindlessly putting information on the internet, leads to our safety being at risk. The purpose of Paulina writing this blog post is because it’s a part of her portfolio, which is a requirement for universities, so it’s very likely that the information she wrote is genuine and true. Since her portfolio post was written in 2011, the information she wrote could be outdated as it’s from 8 years ago, therefore making her blog unreliable. 

Another converse and national perspective on this issue is from the Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong. Mr Lee wants Singaporeans to live in a “Smart Nation” (Jing En), a nation where the lampposts will be illuminating and surveilling the streets, leading to potential information on security threats (Chesterman). During a Ministerial Forum at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, Mr Lee stated that “We want to make full use of the information we have in order to improve people’s lives, improve the way our society works, to make it a safer environment for everybody.” (qtd. in Chia). Mr Lee thinks that this breach of privacy will make Singapore safer as the government will be informed whenever there is a potential security threat in Singapore. This information was from two of the biggest news channels in Singapore, CNA and the Straits Times. These news channels are bound to have a bias because they were written by Singaporeans, but the information from these channels are true as these channels are well trusted, and also because it is very unlikely that they would break the law that Singapore has against fake news. Since these articles were written quite recently, the information form the articles are reliable and credible.

Another consequence of the internet’s invasion of privacy is the negative impact on our wellbeing. We are constantly living in fear, fear of being stalked, hacked, catfished, etc. A global perspective on this issue comes from an author, Richard Glenn, who thinks that human wellbeing is negatively impacted by the rise in technology and its subsequent impacts on privacy. Richard Glenn, stated that privacy causes oneself to distance from the community, and it causes one to become more secretive (qtd. in Coiffard-D’Amico). This shows how Richard Glenn believes that a breach of privacy due to technology makes one more secretive and less trusting, and it also makes one more alone as they would be distancing themselves from their community. This will cause the person to have trust issues, and if a problem arises they won’t be able to talk to anyone about it as they would have lost all connections with others. This information was sourced from a website which addresses multiple global issues. Since the journalists who write articles on this website are students, they are bound to know more about current events. Since these students are undergraduates, they don’t have any PhD’s, therefore the information on the website could be wrong, making this article less reliable. In comparison, both Richard’s and Paulina’s perspectives are pretty similar. They both talk about the negative impacts that technology has on us, and how the rise of technology and its subsequent breach on our privacy will lead to humans getting hurt. These two perspectives challenge Mr Lee’s perspective as he stated that this breach of privacy will keep Singapore’s residents out of harm’s way. The main reason why these perspectives are so different is because of the exposure these stakeholders have to information. Since Mr Lee has more access to information, he knows more about how the society works, therefore knowing more about how to protect the society and how to prevent any attacks. Since Paulina and Richard don’t have enough access to information, they wouldn’t know about any threats to a country, so they are simply just blindly making assumptions and forming an opinion. 

Technology’s limitations of privacy impacts our health in a positive way. In the 349th volume of the Science Magazine, Eric Horvitz, a director in the Microsoft Research Labs, wrote an article about how doctors can analyse streams of data from internet searches in order to reveal signals of health concerns (Horvitz). With the use of the data from the privacy breach of local residents, doctors will be able to analyse trends in the search history of the residents, therefore they will be able to infer whether of the residents are suffering from an illness. This is a local perspective since being able to detect signs of health concerns will allow doctors to treat the patients, therefore ensuring that the residents of a community are healthy. This will cause the community to be happier and it will also make the community closer. This information was sourced from an online magazine extract that was linked to Eric Horvitz’s website. Since the information was published in Science Magazine, which is meant to inform others about Science-related events, the information written in the magazine is bound to be true, and it is very unlikely that it is fake. Another reason why this source is reliable is that it was written by Eric Horvitz, who works in the Research Labs in Microsoft, therefore the topics he addressed in the article are the topics he is most familiar with. Like Mr Lee’s consequence, this consequence stated by Mr Horvitz is a positive one. It talks about how the data collected from the invasion of privacy due to the rise in technology can be beneficial and it can be put to good use. This will cause an overall positive impact on the community, unlike the consequences stated by Paulina and Richard. The other two consequences are very negative, and it highlights how the invasion of privacy due to the rise of technology has a negative impact on each individual. 

Most of our data is out of our control, therefore opting out of the internet won’t really help in this situation. We just have to be more aware of what we post on the internet, and what information we choose to put online (qtd. in Mineo). During his testimony over Facebook’s data sharing scandal, Mark Zuckerberg expressed that everyone should know how the information that they share on Facebook is going to be used. He stated that  “That’s why, every single time you go to share something on Facebook, whether it’s a photo in Facebook, or a message, every single time, there is a control right there about who you’re going to be sharing it with … and you can change that and control that in line.” (qtd. in Watson). In school, if teachers just spent 20 minutes every week teaching their students on how they can be safe online and what happened to the information that the students put on the internet, the students will be able to benefit from that, and they will know how to prevent negative consequences while using the internet. This is the most appropriate course of action as it will allow future generations to be safe, and it is the only course of action we can actually take. In this day and age, humans don’t have enough power to stop the government from keeping us under surveillance, and we don’t have enough power to stop companies from using online cookies, therefore the only step we can take at the moment are the small ones.

Before doing research for this report, I thought that the privacy breach due to a rise in technology has a negative impact on our daily lives. I thought so because I always heard stories of people’s identities being stolen, and people being stalked online due to the information they posted. Due to this I always thought that the internet is a dangerous place and its limitation to our privacy brings us harm. By doing the research, I got more exposure to the different consequences of this issue, and I realised that there are a lot of positive consequences to this issue. Now, I think that Mr Lee’s perspective on the consequences of this issue is the most significant. I think that the data collected due to the breach of our personal privacy can be used in a positive way that brings safety to all citizens of a nation. Like Mr Lee stated, the data collected by security cameras can be analysed to see any possible threats to a country or person, therefore bringing safety to the country and to all its citizens.

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