Why Care?

Being Online & Your Privacy Are Fundamentally Out Of Balance

These days being online and having privacy are fundamentally out of balance. There is too much surveillance of what we do online. At the same time, we are losing control over how we represent ourselves. Free services and convenience are traded for disclosing everything about ourselves.

Information about us is collected constantly and sold to advertisers who target us with ads for products and services. Context gets lost. For example “Health interests” collected from visits to health information websites are resold and analyzed to make decisions about us that go well beyond which ad to show next. Our health interests, together with all of our online behavior, become part of our reputation — one that is for sale.

Businesses and governments build profiles of who we are, what we do, where our behavior takes place and with whom. This picture of ourselves is used to make decisions on loans, insurance, employment and many other things that impact our lives. Decisions about us that discriminate based on personal information invade our privacy and may be illegal.

Today, being online means being immediately recognized by a global network of vendors focused on recording your behavior and motivating you to take actions that generate the most profit. Your privacy and being online are truly out of balance.

You Have the Right to be Left Alone

Privacy is something we might not notice until it is gone. Our rights to privacy are formalized in the Bill of Rights and in State Constitutions. In The Bill of Rights the First Amendment protects the privacy of our beliefs. The Third Amendment protects the privacy of our home against demands to house soldiers. The Fourth Amendment protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons… against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Twenty-six states have added specific references to personal privacy rights in their state constitutions.

Your right to be left alone covers everything you possess or express, including your personality, beliefs, sexual orientation, health, relationships and behavior. This means that you have the right to make decisions and live your life free from the interference of others. You can do as you please, free from unwanted intrusion or observation, as long as you are not breaking the law.

Your Privacy is Important!

Three findings from Your Online Privacy Scorecard Health Information Websites stand out. First is the large number of advertising partners that collect your personal information in real time. It may be a little hard to get your head around. When you type “cancer” into WebMD, by the time you see a webpage appear, 26 partners of WebMD have received the details of your request. Literally hundreds of advertising technology vendors see everything you are doing and bid on the rights to fill up all the ad spaces on the next page you see.

Second, your personal information is traveling all around the world all the time! For example, Drugs.com is based in New Zealand, and more than 30 of its 150 advertising partners are based overseas including Russia. Drugs.com website servers instruct your browser to send web requests with your personal information all over the world.

The third finding that surprises many people is that there is a largely unregulated industry of data brokers that collect, process and sell an extensive set of information about each one of us. What used to be separate streams of marketing, finance and online information are now connected into one “global data about you network.” In Networks of Control, Wolfie Christi and Sarah Spiekermann document the current situation in great detail: “A network of major online platforms, publishers, app providers, data brokers and advertising networks is now able to recognize, profile and judge people at nearly every moment of their lives.”