Online Privacy, is that even a thing?

A study conducted in 2008 estimated that an average American user would need somewhere close to 244 hours per year to read privacy policies for all websites he/she visits and this study was conducted well before we had a plethora of apps on our phones. Frankly speaking, who has the time for all that? Just click on I agree and move ahead (don’t do that, someone might take your soul, no seriously they might).

This is where we make the biggest mistake, take for example the class activity we were asked to do for the upcoming week. Poor lady, using just her image (which was her display picture from Twitter and Pinterest btw), I have found out her workplace, her relatives (husband, father, mother, sister, son, and daughters), her contact details, places she has visited, her interests and that her daughter just graduated (best of luck to her!). Spending just a couple of dollars, I would have even had her residential address and land purchase details which are registered in her and her husband’s name.

internet screen security protection
Photo by Pixabay on

All of this with a simple reverse-image search on Google? Is it too far-fetched to think that someday government would make a technology to just scan your face to track your online activity (Sounds like a freaky Black Mirror episode from season one, eh?). Governments across the world are using facial recognition technology for immigration purposes and are calling for wider use of such technology in critical service areas such as welfare payments and credit lending. But, these are shared services, how long before such a sophisticated piece of technology lands in private sector where, to be honest, any form of data that helps targeted advertising (micro / effective advertising) is pure gold.

Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) for commercial use

High-end retailers have been using FRT to spot celebrities in stores. What it essentially does is it scans all customers who enter the store, maps them against the database to determine who is a celebrity and sends an alert to store assistant every time it spots one to ensure that the celebrities are given special attention. This also increases the chances of achieving higher sales as the system prompts preferred styles, colors and the right fit for the given body type of the spotted celebrity. It is not exactly a wild idea to think that such an idea can be extended to scan everyone who enters the store and map them against the database obtained from shared services and then create a profile based on your purchase history, would that creep you out or would it just be a part of personalized shopping experience?

Ethical issues with facial recognition technology

FRT, as mentioned above, is a double-edged sword, notably, Microsoft raised this issue with U.S. government as also Australia’s proposed system is riddled with loopholes. There is no clear answer to whether FRT is more beneficial than harmful or vice-versa. The bigger concern is that invasion of privacy has become more acceptable under the guise of added features. Apple introduced FRT with iPhone X, it takes utmost care to protect its data and credit to them for that. However, it normalizes the technology. Other manufacturers would look at it as a point of parity in terms of positioning, try to match it and over time it may even become the new norm in the industry. Would you then still be comfortable knowing your facial identity may be sold for whatever may be deemed as the right price and right cause only to receive several (unwanted and possibly disturbing) targeted ads?

13 thoughts on “Online Privacy, is that even a thing?

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  1. You could talk about ways to mitigate online privacy intrusions if any? For e.g implementation of gdpr/ making privacy a human right(taking it to the extreme), a shift in attitude of consumers..


    1. I completely agree, Lohit. It is becoming a blurred line these days and there needs to be a fast change to address it. The bigger concern is how people have accepted such intrusion albeit in an unknown way.


  2. Very provoking insights on Online Privacy. I must say, l am guilty of not reading the terms and conditions. Now l understand why l was bombarded with emails of different promotions from different companies that l have not subscribed too. Since enrolling in this unit and learning more, l am more cautious.


    1. I am with you on this, I too almost never read terms and conditions but I intend to change that habit. Another issue with terms and conditions is their wording. It is worded by legal experts in a language that is not easily comprehensible for an average user. I too get fed up with emails cluttering my inbox, haven’t found a way out of them yet but have started using incognito mode in chrome more and that seems to have helped a bit.


  3. I was not aware of the statistics in first paragraph. What it means that people are inadvertently pushed to push that AGREE button. Internet is man-made, no matter how secure a company claims your data is, technology can always be hacked into.


    1. YES. It is more of an illusion than reality sadly. Data security however robust, if the architect behind the technology goes rogue then everything is left exposed.


  4. Nice post, thanks for sharing. I agree that technologies like FRT should never be used for commercial purpose as it violates privacy. I would like to mention a FRT application, for example, China police is using FRT to detect suspicious behavior, detect and track suspects, and even predict crime. Data collected using FRT technology will help improve security and make people think twice before they commit mistakes. I would like to share a video this, where a thief steals a wallet and return it to the owner after seeing a camera recording him (LINK – I feel it is right for the government to collect the private data only if they have capability to protect it from external parties, which is always a question mark!


    1. I agree that the government should be allowed to use FRT and they are already doing it for immigration purposes. Beyond that, I frankly do not trust governments too, precisely for the reason you stated. If they do not have the capability of protecting data from external parties then the data is just waiting to be breached at some point or the other. A horror story unfolding for Indian Government these days is the security of AADHAR data. UIDAI’s chief’s personal data was hacked within minutes when he threw a public challenge to prove the robustness of data protection methods that they claimed to have in place.


  5. Great insights on FRT.. Read the bit about Iphone X and completely agree with it. Glad I didn’t buy it being an apple lover !! Wonder why people don’t bother about long term privacy of their data. As you mentioned in the blog, it definitely normalizes technology with competition becoming fierce each day and companies trying to not only come at par with each other but supersede each other to win by a nose ! A Good read !


    1. It’s more of a compromise on what information you are willing to compromise. Apple pushed and normalized FRT leading to greater consequences (potentially) whereas Android being open source is more prone to data theft and unauthorized data sharing. Like this for example

      Apple has a clear directive on how to stop this, whereas Google hasn’t released any definitive advisory on how to stop this.


  6. Out of all your posts, the headline in this one really made want to read it. I think the idea of privacy is just difficult to digest, I haven’t had any problems before and I know my attitude towards privacy is just of someone giving for granted that no one wants to do anything to me. I don’t care if people know my things, I consider my online life as a small part of my real life and I don’t give too much thinking when ticking the T&C’s. I guess I’m just trying to say that I see these marketing and technology strategies in a very practical way; if they are useful, then be my guests… that’s it. Thank you for posting about this! Lots of insights for me to think better what I do online.


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