Column: Beyond the Screen

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Chrissie Faenza

For the sake of full transparency, I’ll admit that my daily average screen time is eight hours and 17 minutes–for my iPhone and MacBook combined. That’s about one-third of my day. Considering I get maybe seven hours of sleep on an average night, I realized that I face a screen longer than I shut my eyes within a 24 hour cycle.

Such a large part of my life on my phone and laptop comes with a large portion of trust. To me, trust is about taking down any boundaries, specifically of my private life. Yet constantly being online, however, it’s puzzling to define what exactly I’m trusting, or who I’m trusting.

To tell it truthfully, your private life is practically dead when you’re online.

Pew Research Center for Internet & Technology found that about six in ten adults in the U.S. believe they don’t think it’s possible to live any day without having their personal data collected. More than 80 percent of U.S. adults feel they have very little to no control over what data about them is collected.

Large conglomerate tech companies–like Google, Amazon and Facebook–control an immense portion of the internet in collecting personal data from consumers. Our data is their fuel.

When we spend the majority of our days online, it only means more action for personal data to be accumulated for the use of these powerful companies.

Many of us as consumers don’t even know to what extent we’re being tracked.

I’ve seen my friends cover their computer cameras with a sticky note, under fear that they’re somehow being watched. I’ve heard people joking about their “personal FBI agent” reading the embarrassing things they Googled.

These are just a couple of examples that show the unknown line between online privacy and publicity as consumers. We’re very aware of the small sliver of control that we have.

We as consumers know our personal data is being collected, but typically don’t know the boundaries. The same goes for the laws that would protect our privacy.

According to the same Pew Research Center survey, 63 percent of Americans say they know very little to nothing about the laws and regulations in place to protect their personal data privacy.

Of course, there’s always the “privacy policies” put out from websites before you agree to their terms and conditions. But there’s reasonable doubt that anyone really takes the time to read pages of legal jargon. Some policies are also poorly defined and are difficult for the typical consumer to comprehend.

Some states such as Virginia and California recently have passed laws to protect consumer data privacy. Under Virginia’s Consumer Data Protection Act (CDPA), consumers gain expanded rights in controlling their personal data collected by companies, with the right to access, correct, delete or get copies of their data. The act also requires companies to provide clear and precise privacy policies to consumers, and limits companies’ use of this data for which it was collected.

It’s great to see that we’re taking these steps to protect ourselves and our private lives–through both personal action and state laws. At the same time, there’s reasonable suspicion that our privacy will never be the same as it was prior to the internet’s boom.

We severely underestimate the power of conglomerate tech companies. The majority of us wouldn’t know what an online world would be like without companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon. They have us in their back pocket, and for the money, they’ll do anything to manipulate our data privacy.

Even with these laws and precautions we take as consumers, I would imagine that there’s a loophole to everything. At this point, the invasion of privacy is just something to accept. Significant change in data privacy protection is doubtful in my eyes. It’s a hard pill to swallow for those with hope, but we must acknowledge that we as consumers are far off from the level of power most companies hold.

At the end of the day, I’ll still have a screen time upwards of eight hours and still take the same actions online as I would normally. Online privacy is dead, period.

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