TMCnet Feature
January 14, 2021

How technology has changed privacy over the years

The word “privacy” means different things to many people. But one thing we all have in common is that we hate unnecessary exposure to undeserving elements. We all wish to share what we want and with who we want. That is why both independent and organization privacy advocates such as PrivacySavvy and EFF exist.

Unfortunately, technological advancements have made it impossible to stay private, especially on the internet.

Presently, millions of cameras, devices, and sensors generate data about every human being daily. Also, many people unknowingly provide their data through the actions they take on the internet. So, it’s hard to remain private even when we crave it.

In this article, we'll trace how privacy concerns increased due to technological advancements.

How did Internet Privacy become a serious concern?

The Internet brought a lot of changes to our existence. It changed the way we learn, think, work, defines values, and also the way we work. As the internet gradually evolved, many values like privacy changed.

Initially, people could share only the information they wanted to share with whom they choose. There were no issues about it, but gradually, the internet made it almost mandatory to share more than we want to share. For instance, online shopping has made it compulsory that you must disclose your credit card information to buy goods.

As a result of the changes in how we share and receive information, privacy is almost impossible. Now, people are easily compromised through the information they share online. With that, it has become very easy for cybercriminals to perpetrate identity theft successfully. The question is, did we contribute unknowingly to these privacy issues, or was it solely because of the changes that the internet brought?

Tracing the gradual descent of digital privacy

Let’s see how the internet gradually stripped us of our digital privacy, starting from 20 years ago.

Digital privacy from 2000 to 2004

The early years of the internet were more secure because the activities that could be performed online were limited. Also, the number of people using the internet hasn’t risen to the billions of today. Then, the focus was more on information storage and transferred rather than digital privacy. Internet users didn’t have to worry about cyberattacks because those issues were rare. Also, Google processed data collectively and not individually like what we have now. 

Then entered Facebook (News - Alert), a social platform for interaction and sharing of all kinds of information. With the advent of the social media platform, many people threw caution to the wind and started exposing themselves unknowingly.

The exploitation of users' data from 2005 to 2011

After the advent of Facebook, there was a spike in the use of the Internet because many people worldwide realized they could connect globally through social media platforms. With the increase in usage, more and more data became available for tech companies like Google (News - Alert). In 2005, hackers successfully stole 1.4 million records, including credit card details and 96,000 checks.

With so much data available, Google realized that they could use them for advertising, even at the individual levels. Therefore, the company decided to utilize the opportunity and bought two other related companies, YouTube and DoubleClick (News - Alert), in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

From there, there was a spike in banner and desktop advertising. The same year in 2007, the first iPhone was launched and introduced the mobile revolution. With this innovation, it became easier for people to use the internet and tech companies to track their online activities.

The emergence of digital security concerns from 2012 to 2017

The hack of 2005 was just the beginning because between 2012 and 2017, up to 130 data breaches were recorded. There were at least 4.5 billion records stolen within a space of five years. From these data breaches, the concern for digital privacy started to increase.

It became clear to many people that their online activities help both tech companies and hackers get their personally identifiable information or PII. They also understood that the data they share could be used in many ways, including malicious activities against them.

Many other cases of data breaches also helped to confirm what people feared about their data. For instance, Facebook targeted many of its users in 2006 to test a new feature, "News Feed," which led to global outrage.

Other notable breaches occurred in 2015 and 2017. In 2015, Anthem Inc. lost 37.5 million medical records from its servers. In 2017, many internet users lost $16 billion as a result of identity theft.

There were more data breaches during these years, and it increased people's awareness of Internet privacy. Many people started clamoring for digital privacy tools to protect their data online. And in 2016, up to 86% of the people who use the internet claimed to have succeeded.

The birth of online privacy concerns - 2018 to 2020

The year 2018 was crucial in shaping Internet privacy to what we see today, a virtual human right. From the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, people worldwide discovered how tech companies could use their data without their consent. When the European Union enacted the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), people realized that even the law could protect users’ data.

Also, in many countries, there are security laws aimed at protecting internet users from exploitation. Unfortunately, these laws are not adequate, and even the GDPR isn't enough to convince internet users of their safety. Even with all the security laws, many people are still victims of cyberattacks. There has been a lot of identity theft and credit card fraud worldwide, with America leading the pack.

However, internet users are more or less contributing to the success of these cybercrimes. Even with their desires to stay private online, many people are still upholding outdated practices that compromise their privacy. For instance, many people still use one password across multiple accounts. Other people grant harmful permissions to tech companies and fraudsters because they ignore privacy policies. All these and other practices compromise our digital privacy.

How technology redefined privacy

Privacy in the usual sense means limiting the information others can get about you. It meant that no one should evade your space unless you let them. That was the mindset in the early years of the internet. Even though things are changing, privacy still means the same things on the internet.

The challenges we face online are not understanding that privacy is important and how to protect our digital lives. Due to the use of technological innovations, we’ll be facing more difficulties in protecting our data. As we buy things online and subscribe to services with our credit cards, it’s becoming more difficult to hide our data. It seems that we don't have control anymore over the information we share.

This is why it has become difficult to define what privacy means on the internet. Even when you don't want tracking cookies, you'll end up permitting them to track you, or else, the website you visit won't work well. Also, you may try hard to protect your privacy, but your friends and family's activities over the internet will end up exposing you. It's tough to be specific about the meaning of Privacy on the internet in such a chaotic environment.

Final words

If you want to remain private online, it’s left for you to be careful of the data you share. While you can't avoid certain situations, you can at least choose the places you visit. Also, the government and tech companies should assist in protecting people's digital lives.

The truth is that many people have lost millions due to data breaches. Many homes and businesses have crumbled as a result of cyberattacks.

While technology is making it harder every day to stay anonymous on the internet, there're lots of security measures you can adopt for your safety. On its own part, the government should create and uphold privacy standards and principles to keep internet users safer.

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