What is internet privacy and why it’s essential today?

Ali Qamar Last updated: September 14, 2022 Read time: 20 minutes Disclosure

This article provides an overview of informational privacy by describing the information that is protected and why it matters.

Sneak peek at internet privacy

The term “Internet Privacy” or “Informational Privacy” is now commonly discussed among internet users due to the massive upsurge in privacy issues today. These interchangeable terms, having the same concept of handling the users’ online data, primarily refer to how the government and other organizations track, collect, analyze, and sell the data to third parties. Mostly, such data collection is without the respective users’ consent, violating their online privacy rights. With this detailed guide, let’s learn more about internet privacy and how it is crucial today.

Most internet users want to control how their information is collected and subsequently used. In addition, they wish to understand who knows what about them and how they learned it. But on top of that, users appreciate their informational privacy and security in the digital world even more.

Although, some users do not mind giving away their personal information to the service providers to improve functionality. However, most internet users want some guarantees about who has the privilege to use personal information and to what extent. That’s why and how the terminologies like “data privacy,” “consent for sharing,” “data abuse,” and “privacy breach” trigger heated debates.

Some common threats to informational privacy

Technological advancements

Digitalization and the internet happened at an unprecedentedly fast pace in human history. Thus, they’ve created an environment never seen before that caught us all somewhat unprepared.

Sure, the new technology offers many new possibilities and advantages. But it also poses previously unknown threats to our privacy.

Notably, the rise of social media happened in an environment rapidly adopting the monopolization of the internet’s most essential features. The recent shift of Meta (previously known as ‘Facebook’) from social interactions to the metaverse thing is one such example. This trend is eroding users’ already meager control over their data.

Though losing control over personal data does not automatically constitute a tragedy, it poses some disadvantages.

But such drawbacks are not a fact of nature or an inevitable consequence of the internet’s dynamics. Instead, they happen because more and more entities have gained access to our data and are trying to obtain even more.

Luckily, governments, privacy enthusiasts, and activists sensed the upcoming privacy disaster early. Thus, data protection laws appeared in many jurisdictions to prevent abuses in the increasingly high personal data processing.

But then, data science emerged as a new discipline, bringing in big data, machine learning, deep learning techniques, and the corresponding privacy threats.

Likewise, platform economies are also around, backed by tech giants with global reach that profit from private data. So naturally, this led to more data storage and processing.

As they say, “information is power,” some actors among these giants abused this power against people. Then along came Edward Snowden with a series of scandalous revelations.

Initially, people dismissed Snowden’s warnings as unreasonable. But then, the Cambridge Analytica scandal happened, proving him right. The threats about lack of privacy and control over our data are genuine and devastating.

Government surveillance

Besides technology, some of the world’s governments also actively target users’ data privacy.

China, India, and North Korea are the most notorious governments with large data infrastructures to collect even more information about their citizens. Unfortunately, though, they are not the only regions with such measures. Many other countries have also implemented specified programs for ‘spying’ on users, such as the USA’s PRISM program. Furthermore, the governments have also agreed to share their citizens’ data (the 14 Eyes alliance), worsening their privacy.

It raises further concerns. Collecting private data that establish general trends without identifying individuals is one thing. But gathering that same data in a way that allows a government to pinpoint a single person’s behavior is another. Hence, such aggressive data collection and surveillance often facilitate implementing harsh steps against freedom of speech, internet freedom, and other fundamental rights for the citizens.