The most recent trend among organizations regarding privacy policies is to mask privacy invasion with “consent forms” or any other type of forced consent, like rewards. A recent article refers to an example of this behavior in The University of Alabama, where an app that uses location-tracking technology from students’ phones was launched and is being used, presumably, to see who stays at the football games and who skips out. The app issues rewards to those who stay, and although it seems like a simple harmless deal, it is not. Campuses are joining corporations and governments as part of the Big Brother surveillance operation on the public, a problem growing worse by the day.
“We are witnessing so many cases of forced consent that we already feel natural to trade our privacy for points or discounts, or simply to use an app,” says Stephen Garcia, VP of Private Investigations at Wymoo International. The problem is that the trade is not fair at all. Does that retail store app really need access to your GPS and camera? There are many ways to work around a reward without violating people’s privacy, and yet most companies decide to ignore the alternatives and put the blame on you. After all, you did give them permission to stalk you when you installed the app!
How many times have you been in a position where you feel you have to put your privacy aside? Probably many. Or else, you wouldn’t be able to communicate with others online, you wouldn’t be able to try internet dating, you wouldn’t be able to get that discount in your insurance policy, etc.
There are many problems with this way of trading sensitive data. The first one is that most of the time personal information, location data, camera access, and internet searches are not even necessary to provide people with the promised benefits, but companies and organizations still want it because there is big money in collecting this data. Information is power and money. It has never been about giving you an enhanced experience or to reward your loyalty, its just about profiting from you. Too often, the decision to use technology is framed as something you opt into, a choice you make. But when technology is everywhere and indispensable, there is hardly much free will left.
Furthermore, this trend to violate people’s privacy is now arriving to schools and children-related (or youth-related) services and apps, where young people are not given the opportunity to decide. It is a very bad precedent to offer an incentive to students to give up their privacy, like the University of Alabama did. Schools should not be in the youth surveillance business.
Although the list of issues with this trend is quite extensive, the last greatest problem that we will refer to here is the inability of most organizations to keep the information safe. Even if profiting was not their goal, are they prepared to protect all the data that they have been harvesting? No. Everyday data leaks are part of the news, every day we see how authoritarian regimes and even democratic governments are taking advantage of massive amounts of personal information. The thought of having to give up privacy is not comforting for anyone except for those who can use it against us.
It is not inevitable to respect people’s privacy in our times. Those who are doing the invading put the blame on consumers when something goes wrong. But this personal responsibility is unfair when people are not given an alternative that does not mean restraining from technology. It is time for companies to truly respect privacy, to stop forced consent and to comply with the privacy laws in place.
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