People’s Online Privacy Protection Matters
The pressure on social media companies to ensure better privacy protection for users looks set to become a recurring hot button in 2019.
News of data leaks and information breaches continue to dog the likes of Facebook and Google. As a consequence, more than half of consumers are worried about their data privacy online.
A similar proportion wants more regulation. The public mood is shifting.
Some politicians in the U.S. are ready to act. They have begun work on an Internet Bill of Rights that would, among other things, oblige any organization collecting personal data to undertake reasonable business practices and be accountable for protecting personal privacy.
People are starting to realize that a Virtual Private Network (VPN) – once thought of as a tool for those seeking to hide illicit activity - is essential for any law-abiding citizen wanting to keep their personal data private.
Profit before Privacy
The Internet has proved an immensely profitable hunting ground for social media companies.
For years, users have freely provided them with a rich seam of personal data. In the course of routinely gathering personal facts about millions of individuals, industry leaders like Facebook and Google can tell everything from your age and where you live to your personal tastes and shopping habits.
This information is then sold on to companies to help them target advertising more accurately. It appears consumers are content with this so long as the social media companies can be trusted to keep their data safe from fraudsters and cyber criminals.
But the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal of early 2018 served as a wake-up call to the public and politicians alike. Then, in September, Facebook reported a new hack had allowed access to the personal information and private data of almost 50 million users and a further 40 million were at risk.
In the same month, Google decided to shelve the consumer version of its Google+ social network after a bug exposed the private data of up to 500,000 accounts.
It was Google’s second major bug in 12 months. Back in March, a security audit found a software flaw that gave third-party apps access to Google+ private profile data that people were intending to only share with friends.
The public is naturally concluding that the social media companies are not as trustworthy as once thought.
Sea Change in Opinion
The net result is that more than 50% of consumers now worry about their online privacy. According to a study involving more than 1600 adults by British regulators Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), eight out of ten (79%) of internet users are concerned. More than half (58%) say they are specifically worried about data or privacy.
The research also found people’s understanding of regulation was mixed. Approximately one third of respondents think social media sites (31%) and video sharing sites (30%) are already regulated while the majority feel social media requires more regulation.
These results broadly correspond with the latest findings from Pew Research where around a quarter of all U.S. Facebook users aged 18 plus (26%) say they have deleted the Facebook app from their phone.
The fallout appears to have especially affected 18 to 29 year-olds. The majority (64%) admit to having adjusted their privacy settings over the past year.
It would seem that the era of social media companies being free to exploit people’s personal data as they see fit is drawing to a close.
Politicians and, to an extent, the Big Tech companies themselves accept that change is on its way. In the past 12 months, senior executives from Facebook and Google have gone on record to say they will work with regulators to devise a uniform set of rules.
Meanwhile, Democratic politicians in the U.S. have drafted a list of 10 principles that they hope will form the basis of a future legislative ruling.
Dubbed the Internet Bill of Rights, proposals include the right to have access to and knowledge of all collection and uses of personal data by companies. Other criteria include opt-in consent and reasonable business measures/accountability for privacy protection.
Preserving the Right to Privacy Online
Regardless of whatever form it might take, it is clear that regulation of social media companies is still some way off. It is equally clear that online privacy matters to people and they are already taking steps of their own to reduce how much personal information they share.
A wide range of personal VPN products are available to help them preserve their online privacy. The issue here is that many VPNs at the consumer end of the market actually collect data and are not as safe as they might appear.
From a business perspective, it is far safer to provide a professional VPN service in-house than to let employees choose their own low-cost, or even free, applications.
An increasing number are turning to centrally managed VPN solutions capable of remotely handling the mobile VPN needs of many hundreds of employees from a single, central control point.
In summary, recent social media company failings in regard to protecting user data have opened the public’s eyes of the need to do more to keep personal information private when they are online.
Politicians and technology companies acknowledge the need for improvement and some form of regulation is on the cards.
In the meantime, organizations understand that data privacy matters as much to their workforce as it does to their business and that enterprise-class VPN software can help them protect sensitive company information travelling over the Internet and remotely manage workers’ privacy needs.