Privacy protection: taking accountability in the media environment.

Amid many recent events and news, such as the war in Ukraine, inflation rates, and extreme droughts during the summer that have kept tabloids occupied, a new subject is making its way into the headlines. Last August, a video of the Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, trended on social media; during the clip, Marin was dancing and singing at a party. Soon it became a topic of controversy since conservative opinions in Finland found the situation inappropriate, while others thought she had the right to have fun in her personal life; the real problem was not her behavior at a private party, but whomever recorded the video and made it public. Moreover, the video affected her reputation not just in her country but internationally. Controversies aside, a debate started on social media due to the incident: the right to privacy. Many have reflected on the situation and are questioning the right to meddle in the personal lives of others. Although a Prime Minister is indeed a figure under public scrutiny, this incident has brought into conversation many data breaches that have endangered the privacy of ordinary users.

Before social media started to become “a thing”, people didn’t give much thought to the content they were sharing because privacy was not an issue yet. A turning point in the future of data disclosure was the launch of the iPhone in 2007. From then on, smart phones became a tool to send emails, search the internet, buy online, and most importantly connect to social media posting videos and photos just recorded, all within the same device. So, as people across the globe started to make more use of these internet services, the more information they would spread about themselves and their environment. In addition, most users didn’t know how Twitter, Myspace, or Facebook worked, which worsened the situation for privacy’s protection. “Fortunately”, the knowledge about such platforms is different today due to incidents such as “Cambridge Analytica” in 2018, that have raised awareness about the vulnerability of personal information.

Despite the numerous cases of invasion of privacy online and data breaches, there are still diverse opinions about data collection. A recent report by Cisco has shared some insights about it, and results have shown that: “Consumers want transparency and control with respect to data practices”. Some (33%) have terminated relationships with social media platforms because of privacy issues related to these concerns. Yet, other researchers have witnessed a different sentiment regarding data disclosures. Yotpo is an E-commerce company that has surveyed thousands of people to identify what they want in exchange for their information. The results showed surprising findings: more than 80% of the respondents were willing to share personal details with a brand to receive tailored services. Products and discounts were some of the other offers that those customers would like to get in return. It was concluded that creating value could change the perception of people in online privacy. Because brands give something valuable in return, users seem less reluctant to share personal details. In comparison, social media users don’t seem to perceive benefits in sharing information with online networks. This could be a key finding to consider if SNS, social networking services, want to change the situation.

Photo by Chris Yang on Unsplash

While all this might be true, we must not forget that there are other concerns still not resolved in the eyes of the public. Lack of control and transparency were some of the main issues in the Cisco report, and researchers attributed it to the users’ lack of awareness of privacy laws. These regulations had a positive reaction to Cisco’s study. However, many didn’t know that they existed. Because social media is a relatively new subject, passing laws specifically for data privacy is also recent. Nevertheless, these measures were needed, and it was a matter of time for governments to step forward.

Since the “Cambridge Analytica” scandal broke out, large communities on the internet realized that authorities should protect personal information in the same way that any violation of our rights is. That’s how, companies began to include codes of practice for data collection. Yet, users didn’t have to wait long for large institutions to follow their example (at least in the EU). In 2018, the European Union passed “the toughest privacy and security law in the world,” the GDPR or the General Data Privacy Regulation. These set of rules are strict, and its obligations apply anywhere as long as the target of that appliance is people related to the EU. The GDPR focuses on conditions that restrict companies and sites interested in collecting and sharing personal information. In contrast, for American citizens, there isn’t a national law that obliges when a company should notify if the data is transferred to an unauthorized party. Instead, privacy laws are more specific and dependent on every state’s policy. A recent article by the New York Times points out this fact alongside other interesting aspects of privacy laws in the US. The report calls out big tech companies who offer “expertise advice” on how governments should create privacy laws or how third parties can share sensitive information without notifying the user.

Therefore, this sort of legislation is far from perfect in many parts of the world. However, raising awareness on how data works and what users want to share or not has set the path for improvement. Questioning, research, and transparency are the best weapons to fight for the right of privacy in social media. We must not forget that we, users, hold great power in influencing business outcomes and political changes.

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