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The death of privacy

Day after day, our lives are increasingly becoming reliant on the Internet and technology more than ever. We use computers in the form of PCs, tablets, mobile phones, and wearable devices, and every traditional gadget from an alarm clock to the refrigerator is becoming smart.

We use Google and other search engines to navigate the Internet, and we depend on the Internet to store information and retrieve it on demand. I have recently found myself hopelessly lost in a city while trying to remember directions without using digital maps, and I always check for prices online before shopping offline.

Our lives are highly dependent on the Internet.

The all-seeing eye
Carrying a mobile phone with me means that Google knows where I am every day. They know where I work because that’s is where my phone is during the day, they know where I live because I spend the night there, and they know the entertainment joint that I frequent on Saturdays. They know that the place that I go and spend some time every Sunday morning must be where I go to church, and they know the people I met since they see the devices meeting together.

I trust a browser to help me remember my passwords, with the hope that those passwords I store there are a secret between only me and the browser. I give Apps on my phone permission to read my messages, assuming that they will read only if necessary, only to realize that some of them spend time analyzing the SMS that I have received.

Terms & Conditions apply
Navigating the online space is simple on the surface, but a complicated exercise when we dig deeper.

Take the example of the ‘Terms & Conditions’ segments that we encounter on many websites, applications, software and many other digital tools we use. Do we read that text? No. Do the writers of these T&C expect us to read them? No. The documents are usually unnecessarily long, written in the smallest font possible, and using complicated terms which a layperson would likely not understand. We have little option other than checking the ‘Accept’ box. Even when browsing any website, we encounter the notorious pop-up ‘This site uses cookies… Click here to accept,’ and we always accept without a second thought, not knowing what cookies are.

Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence is making matters more complex.

Amazon’s Alexa is a device that is always listening to all that you are saying, while Google has a similar feature on Android phones which can be activated by saying ‘Ok Google.’ When you imagine that someone is listening to everything you say, knows all your passwords, knows every web page you visit, knows where you are at any moment, knows all the people you chat with, and the content of those chats; you only hope that person is God alone.

However, unfortunately, there are many ‘gods’ doing that.

Why collect data?
What do do digital technology companies do with all the data that they have?

Governments have always used the data they have to do government work. They spy over the bad guys (sometimes the good guys) and do intelligence. Big Tech is only interested in using the data to make money primarily through sharing the data with third parties. Thus, Facebook will see you chat with someone on WhatsApp, then they recommend that you add them as friends on Facebook.

Google will see you searching for the pregnancy test kit, and know that they can now start showing you maternity dress ads. Mobile lending apps read your M-PESA messages and use that to determine how much money they can loan you. Information is a powerful tool, and he who has it rules the day.

The new order
What are the new realities that we should wake up to? We are seeing more people get concerned about the data being held by tech firms, and new laws and legislation governing the use of collected data.

Tech firms and users need to guard all the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that they collect, as well as the metadata that can be used to identify a person through their behaviors. There is also a need to ensure that data is encrypted appropriately, both when the data is in transit and when it is seated somewhere in a server.

However, an important part is also to ensure that data is used only for the intended purposes. Another good practice is to ensure people who collect data for whatever purpose collect the least amount of data possible, and do not hold it longer than necessary.

Even with regulations and best practices, the concept of privacy is way much different from what it used to be. It is a new world.

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