Everyone needs data privacy, and everyone should have it granted. But why is it so? What could happen if we had it neglected? Let’s start answering by first understanding what data privacy is.
Following the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) definition, data privacy is an area of data protection that concerns the proper handling of sensitive data. It generally means that people can allow when, how, and to what extent personal information about them is disclosed or transmitted to others. This data could be name, contact information, address, location, or behavior online or in the real world. Websites, apps, and social media platforms often need to collect and store personal data about their users to provide services.
However, some of these platforms may not match users' expectations for data collection, guaranteeing less privacy protection than their users think. Others may not adequately protect the data they collect, which can lead to data breaches that put users' privacy at risk.
With the leakage of personal data, many problems arise, not only for the owners of the data themselves, but also for society, such as failures in the security of citizens. When a person's activities are tracked and monitored, their ability to express themselves freely can be limited, especially under repressive governments.
A good example of this last case is happening right now in Iran: women are baring their heads to protest against government controls, while the head of an Iranian government agency said that facial recognition would be used “to identify inappropriate and unusual movements,” including “failure to observe hijab laws.”
When data that was supposed to be kept secret falls into the wrong hands, bad things can happen. A data breach at a government agency, for example, can result in top-secret information falling into the hands of a hostile state. A breach at a software company can result in proprietary data ending up in the hands of an unfair competitor. But what about our own data?
Not everyone knows that their data can leak out into the world, and even fewer know the results if it does. A good example is facial recognition: this technology is widespread nowadays, and not so many are aware of it. Many people use facial recognition technology to effortlessly log in to their smartphones, and with advanced face detection software at hand, surveillance operators can pick specific faces out of crowds.
It is the case of Randall Reid: a 28-year-old Georgia resident, that was on the way to a Thanksgiving dinner with his mother when police officers picked him up and arrested him for a theft committed in a New Orleans suburb. Their decision to arrest him was based on an algorithmic guess at what his face looked like. For nearly a week, he was locked up in prison, even after he said that he had never even been to Louisiana, much less he had stolen $10,000 worth of Chanel and Louis Vuitton handbags there.
After proving the absurdity of the arrest, as Reid could have not possibly been at the crime scene when the theft happened, law enforcement let him go and "tacitly" admitted the false match.
To stop things like this from happening, we need to be aware of which data we are providing and how it’s been used. We also need to know the ways we can protect ourselves and which data we should be mindful to share, even if asked for.
But of course, it’s not all our fault if our personal information is falling into the wrong hands. The technologies to protect our data need to be improved, and the companies that hold our information should be educated on how to handle it. Luckily, more and more international projects and organizations are speaking up about the misuse of technologies like facial recognition, but there is yet a lot to be done to keep our privacy and our identity protected.
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