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We are all digital citizens - and it’s time to take back control

Use of online personal data has been hitting the headlines recently, with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook at the centre of an ongoing global scandal. Now more than ever, it’s time to take back control of our online data, writes digital awareness campaigner Renate Samson, in an opinion piece for the Lush Times.

 

Let’s play a game - a multiple choice quiz. Ready? Here we go. A social media site you use daily is found to be rubbish at protecting your personal data. It has been using its App to log your phone calls and messages, and has shared your information with a company who used it to target political adverts at you. Do you:

A. Read up on what’s happened, then get serious about your privacy settings.  

B. Immediately delete your account and demand everyone does the same.

C. Do nothing; it’s too much like hard work and you’ve got better things to do online than think about privacy.

The answer you give will inform how you feel about the rest of this article. I won’t be judging you, because I won’t be logging your response. But if this quiz were on Facebook - rather than about Facebook - there might be a chance the answers you give would be used to build a profile about you.   

If you have been following the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal recently revealed by The Guardian, you will know exactly what I am talking about. Quizzes and quiz Apps were the way in which Cambridge Analytica obtained psychological information about hundreds of thousands of people.

The profiles they built were allegedly used to create targeted adverts designed to manipulate people into thinking (and subsequently voting) in a certain way. But it wasn’t just the profiles of those who participated, most of those people also gave permission - often without realising - for all their friends’ accounts to be accessed too. In total, data on 87 million people was acquired.

Whilst the revelations are shocking, what has happened is not really that surprising.  Online, data is king, it is the model on which almost every internet business is based. We are told the more access to data companies have, the better the service we receive, and we believe it. We hand over information about ourselves with little consideration for who is asking and why, and with very little recognition of the value of the data we are sharing.

As the Internet embeds itself deeper into our lives via always connected “smart” products, such as wearables and digital assistants like Alexa and Siri, the demand for us to share every detail of our lives will only continue to grow.

It is clearly time, therefore, for us to acknowledge that we are all digital citizens, and that we have responsibilities to our data. We already understand our responsibilities in the physical world; what is right and wrong and how best to protect ourselves, and we must now adopt a similar approach to our online lives.

We need to consider what data we hold and what data we share. The information in our phones and on our social media, for example, isn’t just about us, it is about our friends, our family and our colleagues too.

As customers and followers of Lush you are alert to the impact your consumer choices have. You are actively minded of and engaged in what can help make the world a better place for everyone. You understand that bad practices need to be challenged and that education and information is key to empowerment. So what can you do to ensure that you adopt the same approach to your online behaviour?

Firstly, it is not about deleting your online presence. Frankly that is easier said than done and in a connected world, removing yourself from these platforms may be cutting off your nose to spite your face. Being online is not inherently bad, but be online on your terms, and not on the terms of the companies.

Familiarise yourself with the new data protection law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It gives you eight data protection rights to help you take control of how your personal data is used. From the right to be forgotten, to the right to restrict access, to the right to be informed, and the right to challenge automated decision making and profiling, these rights exist to help you, so use them.

Then take time to do some spring cleaning of the settings on your phone and your social media accounts. Check your App permissions and restrict access where possible, especially location data. If you have an iPhone choose to not be tracked. On Facebook take time to read your privacy settings closely and make informed choices. Do the same on Google; you will be staggered at the amount of information they hold on you, but you have the power to turn it all off. Then try and find more privacy friendly online services to use, such as DuckDuckGo, ProtonMail, and a host of informative sites like whotracks.me which help you see how extensively your favourite websites track you.

We cannot avoid being digital citizens, but we can get informed and we can, with a little effort, take control of our online data behaviour.

 

We hand over information about ourselves with little consideration for who is asking and why, and with very little recognition of the value of the data we are sharing.

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