Let’s start with China. China has established an extensively complex censorship system and has funded massive developments in futuristic technology. Each Chinese citizen is watched with a close government eye, looking upon people’s every move and pouncing upon those who make the wrong choices. With high-tech surveillance cameras and facial recognition software, not only are citizens being tracked online, but they are also watched throughout their offline lives. This is a terrifying prospect for Americans. In a country that operates on the basis of independence and freedom, government surveillance would be a nightmare. However, as the world becomes more digitized and infested with technology, the diminution of personal privacy is becoming a tangible threat. Although the growth of modern technology is exhilarating and auspicious, digital privacy and protection of personal information have become increasingly threatened by such a rapid flourish in technological advancements. At this critical point in the evolution of privacy, rising technology has prompted both widespread suspicion among users and alarming dangers to the public.
The Evolution of Privacy
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution gives American citizens the right to “be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” America was founded on independence, and a certain degree of privacy was one of the core facets that constituted this ideal of individuality. More than a century later, in 1890, the essay, “The Right to Privacy,” was published as a direct response to recent technological advancements in areas including photography and audio recordings. The essay argued that Americans have the right to be protected from others’ infringement on personal affairs. “The Right to Privacy” was a clear warning for future generations to beware of technology’s imminent rise.
As the late 20th century merged into the 21st, new technology began to invade people’s privacy, confirming the expressed cautions of “The Right to Privacy.” DNA fingerprinting, identity theft, spyware, and web bugs became commonplace. Facial recognition, genealogy companies, home listening devices like Amazon’s Alexa, and location tracking materialized. Technology has been sneaking its way into our lives. Quite recently, this assimilation was exposed on a massive scale. In 2014, Facebook began harvesting the data of around 87 million users, and they sold that data to a now-defunct firm known as Cambridge Analytica. This data leakage ultimately led to the suspicion of meddling and intervention in the 2016 Presidential Election. In the past couple of years, Facebook has been viewed with some distrust and negativity in the public eye. Facebook’s perturbing failure to protect and dignify user data is the telltale sign that our privacy is crumbling.
A Public Distrust
The assaults on digital privacy in recent years are alarming to many Americans. There is a prevalent paranoia regarding the safety of personal data and privacy. A 2019 Pew Research Center poll unveiled the common distrust in technology. The Pew poll reported that 72% of Americans feel that their cellphone is being monitored by various companies. 84% feel that they have little or no control over what data the government collects over them. Furthermore, 79% of American adults demonstrate concern about how their data is being used.
These numbers express fear, distrust, and suspicion. A sweeping majority of Americans are unsure and paranoid about how secure their privacy truly is. It seems to be agreed upon that digital privacy is a prevalent issue among Americans, and privacy needs to be more fortified.
Exposures to the Dangers of Technology
Facial recognition is popular for a reason: it is convenient, high-tech, and modern. The latest smartphones boast the advanced feature in company advertising. Facial recognition has forced itself into our daily lives, manifesting itself in not only mobile devices but also in the hands of police and social media platforms like Facebook. Although facial recognition superficially appears promising, it carries harsh consequences in the realm of privacy. For instance, China has been using facial recognition to obsessively monitor its citizens. With about 200 million cameras, the Chinese government can easily access everyday affairs. Such minute surveillance is a cost that may come with advancing facial recognition in the United States—a cost that we must not be willing to take.
DNA companies, including 23andMe and Ancestry, advertise the promising and attractive prospects of discovering and exploring family history. However, the DNA that people hand over to these companies dangerously expose personal genetic data to researchers. The privacy that millions of people risk in giving genetic data to these companies is not as secure as it may seem. Giving consent for people to research individual genetic information is the default in signing up for these companies’ services. A breach, hack, or leak in the mass of genetic data would be catastrophic. When someone releases their DNA to a genealogy company, they are risking their privacy, which could be used against them or others.
Websites have the disturbing ability to track not only where people browse but how much time they spend on a site, what they click on, how much they are spending, etc. Smart homes, smart TVs, smart listening devices creepily tune into conversations at home—a place that should be considered safe and protected. In addition, the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting billions of records each day to track mobile user locations. It is a fact that our privacy is being continuously threatened. To counter this threat, however, people can shield their privacy by using established methods of digital protection.
Protecting Digital Privacy
There are simple and effective ways to safeguard individual privacy against technology. A simple solution is adblocking. Online ads are used by companies and websites to track users’ information, which includes location and browsing habits. Fortunately, there are accessible options to prevent these ads from “stalking” and invading privacy. Adblocker extensions in Google easily block these stalker ads. Such adblockers can protect people’s information from being obtained by companies and websites.
A more profound and general solution to fortifying privacy, however, is the act of being paranoid. Thinking prudently through a decision will minimize the risks of being breached. Suspicion about every ad, website, software, feature, app, or company can add an effective extra level of security to digital privacy. This extra layer of protection—paranoia—can help guide people toward making the right decisions and judgments about risky sites and technology. Whether it be adding more complex characters to passwords or changing an Instagram account to private, paranoia is a tool that has proven successful against the attacks on digital privacy. Being suspicious of every digital encounter is the first step to protecting ourselves from the dangers that technology poses.
Formation of a Dystopian Utopia
The rise of technology in the world appears auspicious. China, having fully embraced this view of technology, has taken full advantage of the latest developments. Having put billions of dollars into technological funding, China continually promotes and boasts its pioneering developments in AI, facial and voice recognition, surveillance, and 5G. China’s president, Xi Jinping, continually calls for more and more technology, stressing its many benefits. Xi Jinping and his people proclaim that its innovative technology produces countless advantages, such as providing a stronger economic stance and a greater competitive advantage over other countries. These claims are very true, and China’s technology has indeed dramatically ascended above other countries in economy. Ultrafast internet, intelligent robots, advanced facial recognition, and other futuristic ideals have boosted the Chinese people into what they believe is a glorious and futuristic world.
Although the rapid expanse of technology is attractive and invigorating, such advancement comes with its costs. The United States idealizes individuality, freedom, and independence, but China has proven that with such ultramodern technology, such American ideals are not likely compatible with technological innovation. We will be stalked by smart technology, leading to not only our digital lives but our regular, offline lives being forced under the control of corporations and the government. The protection of our digital privacy would be stripped bare as cameras, microphones, computers, and mobile devices monitor our every move. This would be a nightmare, despite the unrealistic belief that advancing technology seems like a perfect dream. This nightmare may very well become a reality.