Research shows that discriminatory digital ads have skewed housing opportunities and job vacancies based on race, socioeconomic status, and gender (making it more likely for women to see jobs with, for example, entertainment or a domestic purpose, some of which may be less well paid). Credit card companies have also targeted ads based on age, excluding younger demographics. And online advertisers have exploited health issues like drug addiction, underage alcohol use, and teen vaping for profit. Even something as innocent as your level of extraversion can be used by marketers to increase product sales.
âThere are endless examples of how the risk to privacy [turns into] risk of discrimination, âWachter explains. âYou can lose opportunities without realizing it and you have very little protection. It’s hard to control what people learn about you because you don’t know what your data is saying, so you can’t fully understand the consequences. If you don’t know something bad has happened, what remedy do you have? “
It turns out that the unease you feel when you blindly accept the terms of another app is anchored in a cold, harsh reality. Whether it’s a twinge of anxiety when you spot a scary advertisement or a surge of anger over the headlines about the breaches of another tech giant, our growing awareness of personal data breaches (and associated risks) can weigh us down by decreasing the emotional security that comes with intimacy.
But that doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do to protect our data and our sanity. The first step, experts say, is not to surrender to what might seem like a losing battle. âWe need to start putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to privacy,â Aboujaoude said. âAppreciate it as a human right worth defending and avoid the defeatist trap that suggests nothing can be done. Think about your sanity: relinquishing control over the details that make us who we are is disempowering and psychologically unsettling.
Unless you get out of the gate (yeah, right) there are the actions you can take to offset the negative consequences of digital privacy invasions, from low-level everyday anxiety to systemic injustices such as discrimination and exploitation. These steps may seem small, but they count.
Personalize your settings to protect yourself.
“Very few of us take full advantage of the privacy features offered by our favorite platforms,” ââsays Aboujaoude. When websites or programs give you the ability to customize your privacy settings (often when you sign up or download an update), take the time to turn off unnecessarily intrusive features. For example, many apps provide the ability to turn on geolocation services only when the app is in use, rather than all the time. And by turning off something as simple as Gmail’s “Always show external pictures” setting, you can prevent email trackers from detecting when you open messages.
Clean your digital footprint.
Have you been meaning to delete embarrassing old tweets or Insta posts? Of course, once you’ve publicly posted something online, it’s hard to remove it entirely (thanks to automated archives), but you can make it less accessible. Consider carefully whether it is worth having public social media profiles. You can always create a separate and protected account for private content. Periodically review downloaded apps, programs, and add-ons, and uninstall those you don’t use. Regularly empty your browser’s cache and cookies. Sign up for an identity theft protection program (offered free of charge by some banks and credit checking services) that will alert you in the event of a data and password breach.
Educate yourself and join the conversation.
“The imbalance between the individual and the big tech is so vast that it can no longer be a fight for ordinary citizens”, explains Aboujaoude. âWe need legislation to help us. Laws that protect digital privacy vary from state to state and can be found at different stages of legislation. The more involved we are in the conversation, the better. âWe need to engage people, young and old, in privacy,â Wachter adds. âAs people find out about data abuse, they start to care more and vote with their feet. Everyone has something to lose.