Large networks such as social media platforms, highway systems and even our genes contain vast amounts of data hiding in plain sight. However, the techniques scientists design to learn about the nonlinear relationships within these structures often result in unintentional…
Data Privacy Day 2021: Is Your Personal Information Safe?
Jan. 28 is Data Privacy Day, an annual event to create and raise awareness about how personal information is collected, secured and shared in the growing digital world. A 2019 Pew Research Center report found a majority of Americans were concerned about how much data was being collected about them, worried about the security of that data and believed much of their online activities were being tracked.
Mark Pollitt is an adjunct professor at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies, who previously served as a military officer and FBI Special Agent. With the FBI, he investigated organized crime, narcotics, stolen property, white collar fraud and computer crime cases. He is an expert on national security as it relates to digital activity, and was recently interviewed by the TODAY Show to discuss the digital investigation into the recent U.S. Capitol riots.
He answers three questions about the importance of consumer privacy awareness.
Q: This year, the National Cybersecurity Alliance is encouraging people to “own your privacy” by learning more about how to protect valuable data online. What tips or recommendations do you have?
A: Compared to Europe, in the United States, federal, state, and local governments do relatively little to protect individual privacy. Most people assume that Americans, at the federal level, have a “right to privacy.” But for most data, you don’t have a legal right to privacy and there is not a constitutional protection of individual privacy, except from the government. Many states have implemented data breach, data protection, and data privacy statutes, but they are inconsistent and difficult to enforce, especially for non-local entities. And even if you do have legal protections, most people waive them. How? By clicking “I Agree” when the website or app first opens. If you agree to the terms of service, they can do anything they want with your data. So, read the terms of service or suffer the consequences. It is much harder to run away from your digital identity.
Your data is often more valuable to other entities than to you. Your demographics, locations, and browsing habits are worth real money in the commercial and criminal sectors. In Q3 of 2020, Twitter made $808 million from selling targeted ads and $128 million from selling data. Where do you think that data came from? Who do you think the targets are?
Q: Is enough being done at the state and national level, in terms of legislation, to keep personal information protected?
A: As I mentioned before, there is not a unified system of governance for privacy in the United States. The European Union has had a strong Data Protection Act that protects consumers and corporations by clearly defining the requirements for data protection and the limits on the use of that data. They have successfully obtained huge fines against tech giants for violations. They are currently working on a pair of initiatives: the Digital Markets Act that would further strengthen consumer protection and competition, as well as the Digital Service Act, which seeks to curb abuse of online platforms. After this past year’s huge jump in online activity and the proliferation of highly targeted misinformation, perhaps the U.S. should consider such legislation. Americans are the most targeted cyber victims…
Q: Are there are any cybersecurity trends you’re watching for this year? Or something new or unusual that is on your radar?
A: After this past year’s tremendous growth in all things digital, we are seeing major threats and weaknesses that cry for action. Time will tell if Americans “get” what a dangerous cyber world we live in.
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