what? 7 things we know you're going to say

Debunking common arguments around data and privacy: "I've got nothing to hide"; "Who cares if people know I eat cornflakes for breakfast?"; "I'm just one in could anyone see me?''; and others.

Last Updated: 19 Oct 2016

1. I've got nothing to hide

Whether you have something to hide or not is totally irrelevant.  Privacy is not about hiding - it is about autonomy, power and control; it is about your ability to decide how you present yourself to the world. 

Given how much data about you is constantly being collected, mostly in ways that you can't see, this erosion of your privacy can't help but have an impact in the long run - on your job or on future jobs; on your networks; on how much you end up paying for specific products; and on a range of other things.

2. I don't care that people know I eat cornflakes for breakfast

Not all digital traces are important and no, maybe what you eat for breakfast doesn't matter.

But when you look carefully at the digital traces you create, you'll find a mix: some might be very banal (your breakfast), but others might be much more personal - where you go (which can also show what you're doing, and with whom), or what your health concerns are. Think about what you share with Google just through searches alone - these might be things you haven't even shared with your partner or your closest friends.

The question is, can you really always tell the difference between the digital traces that would be better to keep private, and those that don't matter? What seems banal today might be important tomorrow, or might be interesting for someone else, or might give away a lot more information about you than you think. 

3. It's just the internet

Looking for a job or applying for credit? Companies might Google you or buy your profile from a data broker. Booking a flight? Are you sure there is no price discrimination in place, based on your previous searches? Or worse - that that one Twitter joke that gets stored, and influences whether you get a visa or not.

Even when you leave your computer and phone at home, a CCTV camera records your face as you enter the subway; your transport card is logged; and when you arrive at your destination, a friend takes a picture, tags you in it and posts it to Twitter. 

Still think it's 'just the internet?' The internet is all around you and your digital traces have become your reputation.

4. But I'm just one in can anyone see me?

Are you imagining people sitting behind a computer somewhere, analysing the data traces produced by millions, billions of people? In reality, it's machines that are doing this work - machines and algorithms that are made especially for analysing huge volumes of data.

Being 'one in millions' does not mean you can 'hide in the crowd'; it means that when the machines compare your data to the data of all these others, it's easier to find the outliers.

5. But I get a discount on my insurance

When you go to your doctor, your communication is protected. This is encoded in the universal concept of patient-doctor confidentiality, to make sure that you can speak your mind to your doctor without being worried about possible repercussions, like your health insurance premiums going up.

But you'd happily share with an insurance company data from a wearable fitness tracker that monitors your steps, breathing, and heart rate, and can sense possible chronic illness and stress - in exchange for a small discount?

6. But I'm getting the service for free

You are not getting it for free - you are paying with your data.

7. I'm not from the West - this is not an issue for me

Data collection is a global issue. Lenders in African countries as well as in the U.S. are already turning to social media and mobile phone records to assess creditworthiness - ie, to decide whether they will give you a loan or not.