McMillan: Take my online data, I don’t need it

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Collegian | Sophia Sirokman

(Graphic illustration by Sophia Sirokman | The Collegian)

Adah McMillan, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

They say “If something is free, you’re the product.” When it comes to online data, we’re all very lucrative products. 

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Companies like Meta, formerly Facebook, sometimes called data brokers, are “in the business of farming your data,” according to an article from The Conversation.

According to Kaspersky, “Data brokers do not have a direct relationship with the people they collect data on, so most people aren’t aware that the data is even being collected. While individuals often click ‘I agree’ to online privacy policies and terms of use — sometimes unthinkingly — it’s not always obvious how much control of data is being consented to and what the cumulative effect across so many websites is.”

But honestly, I don’t care about my online privacy one bit. I don’t mind being the product. I don’t have anything to hide — most of us don’t. 

We joke a lot about asking people to delete our browser history after we die, but let’s be honest — our lives aren’t that interesting. Everyone has searched for something weird or gross. No one will look through your search history after your death unless you’re a criminal suspect, and deleting it won’t save you then. Also, you’ll be dead.

Sometimes, I worry that because of targeted ads, I will lose all of my money to online shopping companies. Then I remember I have basic self-control, and my fears dissipate.

“I don’t fault anyone for wanting their privacy. But I think it’s unrealistic to expect it in the world we live in, and I really don’t want to pay for YouTube.”

But what if a company uses my personal information to scam me? My solution is this: Don’t get scammed, and be smart about your interactions. Hang up the phone on anyone from a company you don’t recognize. Don’t give people your personal information over the phone. Don’t buy things from shady sites. Don’t trust any stranger who knows too much about you. Developing a fear of spending money also works really well for me. 

Would I sleep better at night if I knew my privacy was ensured online? Probably not because I’d be stressing about the money I’d be spending on online services. The reason we get things like YouTube, Instagram, Google Docs, etc. for free is online ads and the sale of our information.

If privacy was the default setting, data brokers would have less information to sell and then charge us for the services we love getting for free.

If you really care a lot about your privacy, you can spend your own money on a virtual private network.

According to NortonLifeLock, “A virtual private network, better known as a VPN, protects your identity and browsing activity from hackers, businesses, government agencies and other snoops.” It’s not that expensive; you can get Surfshark over two years for just over $2 a month.

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If you don’t want to spend money, use a more secure browser or read the terms and conditions more often. I know saying that is a betrayal of modern culture, but knowing what you’re signing up for will keep you safer online. 

Lying is also a fun option. Nobody needs to know I was born on Dec. 2, 2002. I can just tell Twitter I was born on Oct. 1 instead. Of course, you shouldn’t lie about things that matter, like election results, but the general public can be left in confusion about your little life details if you want. 

I don’t fault anyone for wanting their privacy. But I think it’s unrealistic to expect it in the world we live in, and I really don’t want to pay for YouTube.

Reach Adah McMillan at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @mcadahmillan.