Wednesday 26 October 2016

We should take responsibility for protecting personal information

Published 08/10/2015 | 02:30

Austrian Max Schrems waiting for a verdict at the European Court of Justice (SCJ) in Luxembourg on Tuesday Photo: Getty
Austrian Max Schrems waiting for a verdict at the European Court of Justice (SCJ) in Luxembourg on Tuesday Photo: Getty

On Tuesday, the European Court of Justice decided to invalidate a key data transfer agreement between the US and the EU, another complex decision in the confusing development of the right to data privacy.

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But it was yet another reminder that if we really want to be protected online, we should do it ourselves and not rely on either governments or the courts.

The smartest of my millennial peers, those with impressive jobs in non-traditional industries, already take online privacy into their own hands.

They assume that everything they do online is being watched. They are incredibly careful on social networks; they have deleted or untagged themselves from drunken photos taken before we all really understood the power of the internet. They do not voice controversial opinions that could come back to haunt them or banter with friends using language which could be misconstrued out of context.

Everything they say via social media is considered through the eyes of a future employer. I try to follow suit; I am careful with what I post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the three social networks I use, and occasionally spring clean them for content that in hindsight I think does not reflect well on me.

And yet I am a journalist - I put controversial things online for a living.

Lately, some of the savviest internet users I know have expanded this approach to more personal activities.

They have stopped using web browsers and private messaging services which use their data for marketing purposes. The websites we visit and linger on can be used to identify our location, gender, hobbies, political leanings, income, shopping habits, even sexual preferences, and this information is valuable to marketers. Some of Ireland's most popular web-based private messaging services similarly use messaging activity for marketing purposes.

It has become popular to attack the companies behind the services - just look at the Facebook post that recently went viral, with thousands of users posting a message which forbids the company to use their data for various commercial purposes - as if that would make a difference to Facebook's privacy policy.

Why attack the company? It is profit-driven. Why would Facebook provide its reliable, life-enriching service without getting something in return?

The answer must be that if you really value data privacy, treat it as your own responsibility.

Don't leave it in the hands of governments and corporations, or privacy campaigners like Max Schrems or groups like Digital Rights Ireland. Use and pay for services whose main selling point is the security they offer.

As consumers increasingly place value in data privacy and spend money on it, companies will respond.

Irish Independent

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