Privacy can be a very subtle and nuanced thing. When we talk of cybersecurity, for example, we have an image in our mind of a hacker or a breach that ends in the theft of data and/or money. Privacy is not so obvious. Often, when you talk about privacy you will hear people reply, “I have nothing to hide so why should I care about privacy?” It’s as if deciding to take control of the information that describes you is not as important because it is digital.

But the fact is, digital data is important. 

Privacy is a human right and the decision about how personal data is used should be made by the individual. Human rights are something that, once lost, can be very difficult to get back. This is why we need to create privacy-respectful services, including search engines.  The decisions about how our personal data is collected, shared, stored, etc., should be, in the main, down to the individual that data represents.

When It comes to individual attitudes towards digital privacy, the discussion often centers around concerns over the misuse of data. A report from the UK’s telecom industry watchdog, Ofcom, describes how 27% of users enter false information in online forms to protect their identity data. Often, variations on the view of privacy depend on age, sex, and culture. A study on data and privacy attitudes in the U.S., by Pew Research, found that women are more likely than men to read a privacy policy before agreeing to it (65% vs. 55%). Also, those aged over 50 are more likely than those under 50 to ever read privacy policies (65% vs. 56%).

Privacy, or rather its misuse, can also impact others. Another study looked at how an individual’s attitude towards privacy impacted others. The researchers found that privacy choices have far-reaching effects. Data on lifestyle, views, and behaviors, can be extrapolated to relatives and friends through, for example, social media.

There are many reasons why we cannot afford to be blasé about privacy and its wider impacts including:

  1. Loss of control over the use of your personal data
  2. Use of intricate details of your lifestyle by marketers to send you unsolicited messages about products
  3. Surveillance and profiling – your data can be used by unscrupulous companies, for example, in deceptive political campaigns to misdirect voters. Privacy advocate study about this insidious threat.
  4. Misuse of information – personal data has the potential to be misleading and misused. For example, an insurance company that collects unconsented data from a health wearable to set a policy price.
  5. Wearable and mobile apps that send location and health data to an insecure cloud database
  6. Smart meters – many countries are now mandating the use of smart meters in households. (EPIC) shows 14 ways that smart meters can violate privacy, including identity theft and profiling.

Ultimately, privacy in the context of an online presence is about control. Controlling what happens to that data and being able to make decisions about your personal data, as you would about your personal choices in the real world, is why you should care about privacy.