I’m from the Instagram generation, and privacy is not my priority

By Chandreyee Ray

PHOTO: LIANG LEI


As a self-proclaimed Instagram addict, I often battle the urge to whip out my camera in public and take a few snapshots (or a video or two… maybe a couple of boomerangs). Usually, when I’m not documenting a moment, it’s because it may annoy others – like my friends who are waiting to eat their meal, or my camera-shy parents. I even have to battle the urge to take, ahem, selfies.


Seldom, if ever, have I held back because I want to maintain my privacy.


I notice from observing my peers that I’m not alone in this. In fact, our generation is probably the first to be able and willing to document our lives so extensively, even the most intimate moments. Did you actually go on vacation if you don’t post a hotel room tour plus a day-by-day account of your trip via Instagram stories? Did you even propose if you didn’t record a video with 3 separate camera angles that are later spliced into a touching clip that goes viral on Facebook?


I jest (and am completely guilty of the first example), but some researchers theorize that the compulsive urge to document every moment of our lives on social media – even the private ones – comes about because the younger generations view every moment as an ‘anticipated memory’, something that should be recorded and kept just in case it turns out to be memorable and ‘epic’. It is the urge to assure ourselves that we aren’t wasting our limited time on earth. And the urge to demonstrate to everyone around us that we aren’t. But this incessant self-publishing could compromise personal privacy.


VPN company HMA had commissioned a US-wide survey to find out what internet users wanted in terms of security and privacy and what they did to protect their own privacy and security when they are online. Unsurprisingly, it found that baby boomers were by far the biggest age group to say that they did not reveal any personal information on social media as they did not feel that their information was sufficiently protected. Millennials and Gen Z on the other hand, expressed much higher comfort in publishing personal information on their social media platforms.


Earlier this year, an iPhone app called “FaceApp” went viral on social media. The app, which was created by a Russian developer, allows users to upload pictures of themselves into the server, and then offered a variety of filters that would let users see themselves aged up or down by decades. Celebrities started posting pictures of their ‘future’ faces on Instagram, and soon, everyone was using the app. Then came the rumours that the app was being used by the Russian government to create a database of users’ faces. These stemmed from the fact that FaceApp's privacy policy said that all information collected by the app can be stored and transferred to whichever countries FaceApp and its affiliates operate from. The terms of service also said that the app may continue to store user data even after it was deleted. Yet, even while some warned against the potential danger of using the app, it continued to be prevalent on Instagram.


This is just one example that shows the disregard that young people today have towards privacy. Some of my peers are unaware of the safeguards that Singapore has to protect its citizens’ privacy – things like the PDPA are completely foreign to them. They assume that companies and the government will successfully be able to protect their personal data, which the recent cyber-attacks in Singapore have shown is not always true. Yet, I doubt there will be a slowdown in the information we share online, or any attempts to curtail the access that hackers have to us.


I think the crux of the issue is that we don’t understand why our data is valuable. Sure, I know it can be sold on the dark web, but to whom? And for what purpose? Why does it matter that Facebook may be selling our data to third parties who then target us with advertisements? I would have wanted to buy that stuff anyway, Facebook just made it easier for those companies to find me.


Of course, we hear about things like doxxing, which refers to deliberately revealing personal details about a person online with malicious intent, and could easily lead to real life ramifications for the person involved. For example, savvy internet users can piece together a person’s online presence and uncover their true identity - even if the person attempts to remain anonymous. This has been seen time and time again when people posting on supposedly anonymous forums like Reddit have been doxxed after they posted controversial comments, in acts of online vigilantism. Worse yet are cases like that of Kyle Quinn, a professor from Arkansas, was wrongly accused of participating in the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville. Mr. Quinn’s image was circulated by thousands of people across social media and he was bombarded by messages on Twitter and Instagram. Furthermore, his employers were contacted by doxxers demanding Mr. Quinn’s firing. Once things like this happen, there is no use trying to claim your personal privacy back, because the fact is - when something is on the internet once, chances are it will remain forever.


Despite these possible negative ramifications, concealing all details about oneself on the internet does not seem worth the trouble. After all, convenience usually trumps privacy concerns in our day and age. I care less that Facebook is able to monitor my activity on wellness apps (giving them access to details about my health), money tracking apps (which contain the specifics of my finances), and photography apps (which allow them to map the different angles of my face intimately), as long as using Facebook to log in to these apps requires less effort than creating separate accounts for all of them. On the day to day, I’m just not thinking about how sharing this much data recklessly could come back to harm me. After all, I’m not going around making controversial comments on the internet, and I have nothing to hide.


This casual indifference is why I feel no apprehension when I hear of things like CCTV-equipped street lamps in Singapore. Yes, the street lamp may capture my face as I’m walking down the street, but I was going to take a selfie for Instagram anyway.


Read the buzz over going digital here.

By NUS Communications and New Media

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