Online Privacy: What Is It and Why Is It Important? 

From media and communication, to research, to politics and governance, the internet has changed the world in a myriad of profound ways. Right now, 5G technology is being rolled out in numerous countries worldwide. This is prompting many experts to question how high-speed connectivity could impact consumers’ online privacy. 

Privacy on the web remains a pertinent issue, and it could become even more of a concern in a world of high-speed connectivity. Many governments have tightening legislation to protect the privacy and personal data of internet users from unwarranted access. Nevertheless, cyberthreats like hacking, phishing, and cyberbullying are on the increase. 

Online privacy is important because it: 

– Protects your identity and ensures confidentiality, shielding your personal data from theft. 

– Keeps you safe from social media data breaches. 

– Defends personal and business reputations. 

– Helps maintain social boundaries. 

– Ensures your freedom of speech and right to express yourself. 

– Limits your exposure to abusive behavior from other internet users.  

-Reduces the power and influence one web user may exert over another. 

Broadly speaking, the term “online privacy” describes the protection of personal information, communications, and browsing footprints of web users. The term refers to the proper handling of data as stipulated by legal regulations that dictate how personal information is collected and shared. 

These laws place restrictions on websites in terms of how they gather and what they do with personal data. The overriding objective of such legislation is to ensure that people visiting websites do not incur a violation of their privacy, or a breach of their right to anonymity. 

Imagine what would happen if data and digital footprints relating to individuals, businesses, and governments were open to public scrutiny? The internet is a double-edged sword, holding the global economy together while simultaneously keeping privacy under lock and key. Biometrics, passwords, and authentication keys make the internet a safer place for us all to enjoy. 

In an internet age, our data is incredibly valuable to companies because it enables marketers to understand and influence us. Despite a general assumption of privacy and data ownership, we actually have very little control over the systems gathering increasing data about our internet activities and real-world lives. 

We have even less control over what they do with that information. Against this backdrop, it is critical for everyone who uses the web to have a rudimentary understanding of internet privacy and the following issues. 

1. Comparison Culture 

Before the internet, we checked in on family and friends in person. Prolific use of social media has caused us to assess our relationships, possessions, and choices against an ever-growing set of standards.  

We read statuses and posts, constantly comparing ourselves to both friends and strangers, measuring ourselves against their purported status and successes. The problem with this is that social media influencers, and even our friends to some extent, project a sanitized version of themselves online that elides over mess, struggle, and dissatisfaction. 

To try to keep pace, we tend to overshare, giving away information about our private lives to gain social currency, effectively fueling our own manipulation. The Cambridge Analytica scandal highlights how information freely released to social networks is used to influence and manipulate web users. 

2. Marketer Tracking 

According to a survey by Adlucent, 71 percent of respondents reported a preference for ads tailored to their shopping habits and personalized interests. Marketers increasingly deploy targeted advertising campaigns as an antidote to “banner blindness,” with most of us having become so accustomed to generic online advertisements we tend to tune them out. 

As we browse the internet, marketers track our activities. They collect information on us that we cannot control. Web users are increasingly coming to demand a more equitable balance between profiling and privacy. According to a report from Statistica, the tides have been turning for some time. Ad-blocking rates increased by approximately 27 percent in 2018, and have continued to rise ever since. 

The simplest thing that web users can do to stop marketer tracking is use ad-blocking, or move away from big tech web browsers like Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, transitioning to privacy-respecting alternatives, like Firefox or Brave. Despite protests from Facebook and other advertisers, Apple has already taken a stand against app tracking in its Safari browser, implementing an opt-in approach to advertising-related ID sharing. 

3. Cybercrime 

Web users need to protect their privacy to shield themselves from identity theft, financial fraud, cyberstalking, spam, and scams. They can achieve this by: 

– Storing as little personal information as possible in online accounts, avoiding sharing credit cards numbers and phone numbers, etc. 

– Regularly scanning their computer for viruses and malware. 

– Keeping operating systems and software updated. 

– Ensuring that all devices are physically secured. 

– Refraining from storing personal data online, or at the very least, protecting it with data encryption. 

Online security breaches can be disruptive and costly for both businesses and individuals. It is vital for web users to protect themselves from attack by paying heed to the personal data they share online, ensuring virus protection software is installed and up to date, and creating strong unique passwords for each account. Businesses can support staff by operating cyber security awareness programs and informing employees of good online privacy practices. 

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