Data: 3 for $0.87

Privacy: it’s one of our basic human rights, yet are we freely giving it away? Online, we relinquish our idea of “privacy” to use services such as Facebook and LinkedIn. We trade away our privacy (and thus our data) for usage of these services. While we are losing our right to privacy by using these services, companies still have an obligation to use our data ethically.

Data is essentially a form of unlimited currency. We trade data about ourselves to companies such as Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn for their data about general information, networking, people, etc. These companies use our data for marketing, either by themselves or through other companies. This exchange seems simple enough on the surface, but where do the ethics come into play?

Companies often do not obtain data through methods that are inherently obvious to the user, instead watching quietly and recording what we do. Are these methods usually outlined to the user in the Terms of Service? Yes, but let’s be honest, nobody reads all of the junk in them, nor does it usually hold up in court. Either way, it stands to be unethical. Facebook is a prime offender of this: Facebook records everything the user says with his or her phone’s microphone – even when the user isn’t actively using the app and just letting it run in the background. As a result, Facebook is able to record the user’s conversations without their knowledge. They acquire data about the user – interests, products, friends – without their consent. It’s unethical and an abuse of data.

Additionally, companies have an unspoken obligation to protect the data they have obtained. It’s fine to sell it to advertisers (it’s expected at this point), but they should never do so with names, emails, phone numbers, or any other personally identifiable information. It’s an invasion of privacy! Data is a valuable entity, but there is a limit on how it should be traded without the source’s direct permission. People’s specific data is a right: a right of privacy that they deserve to keep.

And beyond just trading our data for a service, sometimes it is simply taken away from us. Case in point, the NSA. We aren’t trading our data for any sort of service. The government is simply taking it. Essentially, it’s stealing. Sure, you could say we are trading our data for national security – but that goes against the enlightenment ideals that our country was found upon. Data is simply the online extension of the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy. People should not freely give up information about themselves without explicit permission or a service in return.

About the Author

Mark Krupinski
Freshman Computational Science who explores the issues of integrating technology within society in "Technically Speaking" Current Outreach Chair