Is Privacy Dead in Online World?

Is Privacy Dead in Online World?
Online world illustrated
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NEW YORK - Last month, 145 million Americans discovered they were victims of one of the biggest data breaches in history, after the credit rating agency Equifax was hacked.

Social security numbers, birth dates, telephone numbers and, in some cases, driver's licence and credit card numbers were exposed, leaving people vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.

Companies know more about individuals than they ever have. And almost every week there is news of a data hack. So does this mean that the age of personal privacy is over?

"Technology has created enormous conveniences for us, but there is no reason why those conveniences have to inevitably come at the cost of giving up our privacy wholesale," says Ben Wizner, of the American Civil Liberties Union, who is chief legal adviser to the US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden to BBC.

Wizner says people should be able to control information held on them, as well as with whom they share it.

"It is now both technologically and financially feasible for corporations and governments to collect and store records of almost all of our activities, records that never would have existed in the past," he says.

All of this - whether harvested from the web, mobile phones or social media - creates vast amounts of data from consumers, held by corporations. And with the advent of smart appliances, this will only increase.

"You will be watching your television, your television will be watching you," he said.

And he has concerns about agreements meant to safeguard consumers' data.

"It is literally impossible for consumers to read all of those agreements. What we all do instead is we click "agree". In legal terms, we have consented. In meaningful terms, have we consented?" he added.

Personal information, Wizner says, allows corporations to make highly accurate predictions about a person's life, including their sexuality and any health problems they may have.

"I think that we hear all too often this sort of blase remark that 'I don't need to be worried about surveillance because I've done nothing wrong and I have nothing to hide," he said.

"For every single one of us, there is some pile of aggregated data that exists, the publication of which would cause us enormous harm and, in some cases, even professional and personal ruin. Every single one of us has a database of ruin," he added.

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