The idea of online privacy has been a major topic of public discourse over the last decade and conversations around the use and protection of consumers’ data have increased and intensified among governments and lawmakers. Big data companies have a great deal of control over what data they collect from users and how they store and then use that data. This can be dangerous for many reasons such as data manipulation, the targeting of people based on their data (for advertisements, marketing, propaganda, etc), and the leaking of people’s personal information publicly among others.
Whether through poor data capturing and storing processes, deficiencies in code leading to leaks, or as a result of targeted hacking, there are many different ways in which users’ data is vulnerable and can be exposed at any time. This data is sensitive, however, and if it is exposed publicly without consent, it can have many negative impacts for users.
Every time you log into a website, purchase something online, or give out your email, you are creating data and are leaving a digital footprint behind. There are many different laws that are in place to protect your data while you use the internet, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Policing/monitoring the internet is difficult, however, and this can lead to online privacy abuse. This article will focus on how people’s privacy is abused online and will give some examples to illustrate this.
1. Tiktok collecting and using children’s data
One of the biggest social media apps to come out in the last few years, TikTok has grown immensely and is used by over 800 million people worldwide. This social media app has faced a lot of issues and backlash, however, due to way it is collecting and using user data, specifically that of children.
TikTok is currently facing a legal challenge from the former children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield. This lawsuit has been filed on behalf of millions of children in the UK and EU and alleges that TikTok extracts the personal data and information from children such as phone numbers, exact location, and biometric data without the necessary consent that is required by law, sufficient warning that this data is being taken, and without the children or their parents being aware of what is being done with the information once it is in TikTok’s hands.
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has already been fined $5.7m by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for the way they handle, or mis-handle, children’s data. TikTok has been heavily criticised for their vague data protection and privacy policies and the way they handle children’s data in particular is just but one example of the way they have abused online privacy and continue to abuse it.
2. WhatsApp shares personal information
WhatsApp is known as one of the most secure social media/messaging platforms due to its double, end to end encryption and for the fact that it doesn’t release users’ data. Well, the latter of these changed once WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014. By 2016 WhatsApp was sharing the personal data it collected from users with its now parent company, Facebook. This was reflected in its updated terms and conditions and claimed to be in the best interest of the user in terms of fighting spam and other positive benefits. In reality, your data is now being shipped off to Facebook and is another example of online privacy abuse.
3. Uber tracks user data even when they are not using the app
Uber, one of the biggest ride sharing apps on the market currently, came under fire a few years ago due to some of its online data privacy practices. This was due to the fact that they updated their app to track users’ data such as their location even when they are not using the app. Uber claimed that this update was simply data collection and analysis that would improve the experience for users. This change in the way the app functioned was not advertised publicly, however, and is a clear example of online privacy abuse.
4. Zoom releases user information without them knowing
While the pandemic and various lockdowns was very challenging for most people, businesses, and companies around the world, some people and companies were able to flourish during lock downs and the new way of the world. One such company is zoom. During the pandemic zoom became the preferred platform for video calls and conferences while people worked from home and is still widely used today.
Pre pandemic zoom averaged around 10 million daily meeting participants. This number ballooned to over 200 million during the pandemic. This sudden and rapid growth in traffic, while great, also brought with it some challenges. The main one being zoom’s poor data protection and privacy policies. Some of the issues Zoom has been criticised for include sending data to Facebook, wrongly claiming that they had end to end encryption, and allow meeting hosts to track attendees without their knowledge or consent. In terms of online privacy abuse examples zoom is one of the largest and most recent.
5. Facebook complicit in the Cambridge Analytica scandal
Facebook has been involved with many online privacy abuse scandals over the years. One of the biggest and most recent of these being the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which Cambridge Analytica, in their eagerness and desire to sell the psychological profile of American voters during the election period, managed to acquire the personal information of tens of millions of Facebook users. This leak was one of the largest in Facebook’s history and they were fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for compromising the safety of its users and their data as well as misleading its users on how their data was being collected, stored, and used.
6. Ring doorbells create a surveillance network in neighbourhoods
Amazon has been criticised for many things throughout its existence from mistreating its workers to not paying enough taxes. In terms of online privacy abuse Amazon has come under fire for the surveillance and data collection practices of its Ring doorbells. The Ring doorbell allows homeowners to see, hear, talk to, and record people who arrive at their door and helps homeowners to feel safe and secure. The Ring doorbells also collects a lot of user information from the homeowners and is used to monitor them. This is especially dangerous when the doorbells get hacked, which has happened on numerous occasions, and puts their consumers at risk.
7. Twitch has massive data leak
Twitch, another Amazon owned company, is one of the largest online streaming platforms and is used by millions around the world. Despite this, it is still vulnerable to data leaks and is plagued by poor data privacy and protection regulations. The most recent example of this coming in 2021 where a vast amount of sensitive user data was posted online including Twitch’s own internal code and documents as well as payments twitch made to thousands of top streamers. Twitch has claimed that the leak was caused by a server configuration change which led to them being hacked. The truth is that Twitch’s computer systems were set up incorrectly, making it vulnerable to hackers and putting users’ private and personal information at risk.
8. Google violates children’s privacy laws
Google was criticised in 2020 for breaching children’s privacy laws and was accused of allegedly collecting biometric data, such as face scans, of millions of students through the use of its specialised software tools for classrooms. As a result, Google is being sued by two children who claim that Google is creating face templates and “voiceprints” of children through their free access to G Suite for Education apps, including student versions of Gmail, Calendar, and Google Docs. This form of alleged data collection violates multiple US data privacy and protection laws and puts many children at risk.
9. Twitter leaks personal information of business clients
Social media isn’t used only by people for personal use, it is also used by businesses for marketing and analysis. Many social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter have their own dedicated advertising and analytics platforms which are targeted specifically to the use of businesses. They claim to have excellent data protection and privacy practices but in the end are just as vulnerable as any online platform.
Twitter came under fire in 2020 for breaching users’ privacy and leaking sensitive information such as email addresses, phone numbers, and the last four digits of clients’ credit card numbers. Twitter was also compromised in 2018 when it asked its users to change their passwords due to a data leak in their servers. There are many online privacy abuse examples that can be found from simply looking at social media companies throughout the years and Twitter is no exception.
10. Yahoo information leak
Yahoo is one of the biggest tech companies in the world and is best known for their search engine and email services. They are also now known for having poor data protection and privacy policies due to being hacked in 2013. Over 3 billion accounts were hacked with various types of personal information being leaked. Despite having millions of users Yahoo’s data privacy protocols were lacking and is a good example of online privacy abuse and neglect.
The use of the internet and the generating of data is a daily activity that is pervasive in society today. With so much data being produced, there are laws designed to protect this data and ensure the safety of people’s personal information. Despite this there are still multiple examples of online privacy abuse by big companies who have complete control over how our data is collected, stored, and ultimately used. There are a few things you can do to protect yourself and your data while you are online, such as using a VPN (virtual private network) but, in the end, you are at the mercy of the tech companies and how their data protection programs are set up. Data breaches and online privacy abuse are not new phenomena, and they will continue to happen as our society becomes more dig