Privacy Literacy: The Key for a Safer Future

As we move towards the future, technology is offering us a glimpse into exciting new possibilities. The concept of “Smart Cities” and the creation of a virtual world as the “Metaverse” are becoming increasingly viable in our near future. These notions once deemed to only exist in science fiction, are now becoming a tangible reality, thanks to the integration of innovative technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Virtual Reality (VR).

These technologies use heterogeneous devices and networks to instantly collect and elaborate huge amounts of private and public data. Smart cities aim to enhance the lives of their citizens by integrating technology to improve efficiency, sustainability, and the overall quality of life in urban areas. The Metaverse, on the other hand, presents an entirely new dimension, offering a virtual space for individuals to engage in immersive experiences and interact with each other in real time. The potential benefits and drawbacks of such advancements are still being studied and evaluated. While data can be analyzed to reduce CO2 emissions by speeding up daily commutes or to improve healthcare by preventing diseases, it can exploit privacy invasion and other digital threats as well. Every day, lawyers and engineers collaborate to find technical and legal solutions to protect people’s privacy, but it has been stated that more than 80% of data breaches are caused by human mistakes. If professional and trained workers easily do mistakes undermining the security of their companies, how can common people know how to manage their information?

This makes us reflect on what we can do as individuals to be more responsible for our security. It is clear that as technologies hold the promise of significantly transforming our society in the years to come, we must learn how to use these to enjoy their advantages avoiding unwanted situations. The amount of personal information that we store and share online is increasing at an unprecedented rate. While offering numerous benefits, the prevalence of concepts like the aforementioned also means that we are becoming increasingly self-exposed to the web. The speed at which new apps, social networks, and bots evolve catches us off guard. As a result, we allow our data to be collected, ignoring all its value or how it will be used.

Michelle Roberts wrote an article for BBC about how is possible to spot ovule cancer by tracking loyally-card purchases. This example demonstrates what types of benefits we could get by monitoring consciously our data. On the other side, with this kind of information is possible to track one’s behavior to deliver targeted advertising or to support a political party’s campaign. Another common problem is that we do not know how sensitive some information is.  This can be used by hackers to blackmail us. Whether it is a result of weak passwords, unsecured Wi-Fi networks, or simple carelessness, human error remains one of the biggest contributors to data breaches and identity theft. As we move forward, it will be crucial for individuals, organizations, and governments to take proactive measures to mitigate these risks and ensure that our personal information remains protected. The concept of privacy is a “conceptual jungle” says law professor Daniel J. Solove, author of Understanding Privacy. Government can’t guarantee privacy with just laws, it wouldn’t even be able to define it. The pursuit of private lives and securing personal information is a fundamental right. Laws may offer some support in achieving this, especially in preventing fraud. Many tools are available for people to protect their data. However, overly legalistic definitions of privacy as a fixed “right” can lead to a confusing and unpredictable realm with unintended consequences.

The privacy paradox refers to individuals expressing concerns about online privacy but engaging in behaviours that appear to undermine those concerns. For example, despite expressing concern about collecting and using their personal information, individuals may still freely share personal information on social media or other online platforms. The privacy paradox is an area of ongoing research and investigation, and the exact causes and motivations behind this behavior are not fully understood. However, some possible explanations include convenience, perceived social norms, and a lack of understanding of the consequences of personal information sharing.

Tobias Dienlin, professor at the University of Wien, and Sabine Trepte, professor at the University of Hohenheim, explore the “privacy paradox” which states that online privacy concerns do not always align with online privacy behaviours on social networks. They test the existence of the paradox using prior research methods and a new multidimensional approach that defines privacy in terms of informational, social, and psychological privacy. The results indicate that privacy concerns are not strongly linked to specific behaviours on social networks, but behaviours can be better explained by considering privacy attitudes, concerns, and intentions using the theory of planned behavior. The study concludes that the privacy paradox still exists, but the behaviors of social network users can be better understood by using a multi-dimensional approach that includes privacy attitudes and the theory of planned behavior.

Philipp Masur, assistant professor at Vrije University, deepens the privacy topic from a societal point of view in his article. The fact that privacy is seen “as a form of negative freedom” brings the researcher to focus on the protection of the individual again horizontal and vertical threats. He says: “such a perspective fails to question and challenge the circumstances that have led to the necessity for such protection in the first place” and conceived that privacy literacy can be meant as a way to protect individuals and as a motor for civil engagement to move towards establishing informational self-determination.

Awareness is crucial in our current digital age, where technology and the internet play a major role in our daily lives. With the growth of social media, cloud computing, and other online platforms, people are sharing more and more personal information online, making them vulnerable to privacy breaches and other forms of digital threats. Despite the technological advancements aimed at securing personal data, the majority of data breaches are still caused by human error. This highlights the need for increased awareness and education on the importance of online privacy, to help individuals understand the potential risks and take the necessary steps to protect their personal information. By raising literacy levels, we can empower people to make informed decisions about their online privacy and reduce the risks associated with self-exposure on the web.

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