When we talk about digital privacy, we’re really just talking about privacy. The implications of having your privacy violated online are similar to the ones we experience in the real world: an embarrassing moment leading to shaming or isolation, a sentence heard when you thought no one could hear you, your parents reading your diary. These things happen all the time, and we go to great lengths to avoid these situations. On the internet, the same dynamic is at play. An embarrassing video gets sent around, your texts or emails can be read by strangers, or your parents can get the password to your account and see what you’ve been up to. The difference lies in the scale and control we have over our privacy. When a neighbor peaks in the window, that neighbor is the only one who sees you dancing like a mad man inside, but if your neighbor takes a video and puts it online, the entire world can see your embarrassing moment. It is also much harder to maintain our privacy online, as almost all websites are collecting our data or monitoring our activity in ways that we probably aren’t aware and wouldn’t approve of. It isn’t as simple as closing a digital set of blinds. Most of the time, privacy is a luxury that many of us can’t afford.
I found this example online, and as someone who is increasingly paranoid and concerned about the power of online companies and their ability to track our personal information and data, it infuriates me. This article from 2014 titled AT&T GigaPower plans turn privacy into a luxury that few would choose, highlights how AT&T plans were $70 a month for a plan that surrendered your private data to the company and $100 a month for a plan that protected it. Over the course of a year, this would cost you between $500-$800 just to keep your own personal information and browser history to yourself. The average person does not have that kind of money to throw around, and it shows in the distribution of what plans were selected. Anywhere between 60–80% of customers chose the option for the plan stripping them of their privacy. Upon closer inspection, it appears that money wasn’t the only factor in their decision. The most insane quote from the article describes how, “For any of the bundle options, the default page offers only the “Premier” privacy-invading pricing, even if all you want is broadband,” (Higgenbothom). Essentially, customers are being misled into thinking that only one option is available, and of course that option is the one that does not protect their privacy. https://gigaom.com/2014/05/13/atts-gigapower-plans-turn-privacy-into-a-luxury-that-few-would-choose/
When I read stories like that, and there are countless others like it, I can’t help but feel completely unable to trust what internet companies are offering. There always seems to be a thousand caveats that put the consumer at the greatest disadvantage. It should not cost extra money to NOT have your own personal information taken and shared with the highest bidder. The default position should not be losing your digital privacy, or never having digital privacy in the first place. However, there is hope for a a future where privacy is given greater priority by companies and consumers. Apple has stepped forward with a new ad highlighting the absurdity of data collection practices. Hopefully they live up to their claims! We could all use a little more privacy online.