Thinking about your data on the internet makes anyone uneasy. One is always left with the sense of being watched while using internet technology, causing them to question what information abstract and invisible data entities have collected about them. This is especially true of the all-too-familiar moment in which you are having a conversation with your friends about some product, only to witness an advertisement for it the next time you open your Instagram feed.
Corporations have been making moves to protect people’s data, or at least give an impression of doing so. Apple and Google introduced data protecting features to users, which have been strikingly anti-business initiatives. However, these policy changes by large corporations that are at the forefront of user data feel more like the legal maneuvering of cigarette companies, where they lobbied Congress to ban cigarette advertising in order to avoid the consequences of anti-smoking advertisement and litigation—ultimately a smoke screen to save the tobacco industry.
At the heart of the issue is advertising. What once was a $350 billion digital ad industry is now struggling to find ways to advertise to consumers. And it’s not big business that’s hurting, but small businesses that rely on internet exposure to reach their demographic to operate a firm in the modern era. It’s not fair to them, as the corporations who enact privacy rules are effectively monopolizing consumer data. There are new ways of making the internet pay for itself, like subscription services and TikTok advertising, however these small businesses must keep up with the decisions Apple and Google make to avoid going under.
Instead, internet privacy is being turned into a privilege rather than a right. Those who can afford the products or are forced to use particular services are only granted privacy, which ought to be an inherent right. Now, corporations are entitled to holding onto user data at their own discretion. Though the current mantra of big businesses is to protect users, they are effectively gatekeeping data for their own gain, resulting in cases like the Cambridge Analytica scandal where Facebook improperly used user data leading to a heavy fine on Facebook and Google by the Federal Trade Commission.
Those who are entitled to control data lead to constant infighting between large industry players. “We support giving people more control over how their data is used, but Apple’s far-reaching changes occurred without input from the industry and those who are most impacted,” a Facebook spokesman said. Businesses like Google in some ways strive to attain user privacy, however their decisions consistently create significant ripple effects throughout the entire industry, and hurt many players in order to save face.
Users must be at the forefront of personal data. Even deleting your personal information off of the internet leaves one questioning how much of your information truly does not exist in the digital realm. Even if close friends and family are unable to see your social media presence does not imply this digital alter ego is nonexistent to the platform you created it on. The right to be forgotten ought to be universal to internet users, however this right is only protected in Europe. Google was able to circumvent European laws because they are not observed in the United States, leaving American users still exposed to the lack of what should be considered a pillar of the contemporary Bill of Rights.
This is not to mention the lack of protective laws on the general public from the vast and capricious character of the internet, where naming and shaming videos are common and public images can be permanently damaged over public opinion, often lacking the fairness and justice of a thorough court system. Take the case of the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp trials, where fans overwhelmingly supported Johnny Depp while reproaching Amber Heard, extraneous of the more realistically gray area nature of this celebrity drama. Cases like these are all too common, ranging from local public enemies to universal public figures. Not only is user data at stake, but public identities too may be harmed because of the lack of protection towards internet presence.
Clearly, United States legislation is lacking in direction with internet privacy. The right to be forgotten must be a major concern of US policy, and the government needs to start calling the shots in user privacy instead of leaving it up to entities like Google and Apple who will only seek user data safety for their own corporate motives.