Today is Safer Internet Day, an EU-wide initiative calling for safer internet use; especially among younger generations. As we become more accustomed to the internet, do we know where our information is actually going? And what's more, do we know who can see it?
The internet has entirely consumed us and, for better or for worse, it has become our life-long partner. It has opened up a whole can of worms: yes, it has provided ample amounts of brilliant videos, perfectly timed memes (me-mes? mems??), connected family and friends, and allowed us to see and experience the world beyond our screens (via our screens, of course). But it has disrupted human behaviour and connectivity so much that Black Mirror has become the TV show we both love and fear.
Do you ever stop to think about what happens beyond your idyllic screens after you hit send on your emails and upload your photos from the comedy gig you attended the night before? Does your content – your data – lie dormant, floating through time and space forever and ever? No, which is why today – being Safer Internet Day – is incredibly important for humanity. Every single spec of information that you place online gets packaged and stored in large computers capable of containing city-loads of information - literally.
Thousands of data centres all over the world store your data, some of them, impressively, are even built to be bomb-proof with steel gates and James Bond-type vault doors. It is impressive, and it's an expensive industry; with roughly $3 billion invested in data protection and storage every year. If you live in Galway, did you know there's a €850 million repository being built by Apple in Athenry?
The repercussions of holding this information are rather frightening and, essentially, your own information is used against you again and again by organisations and business to sell you things that they want you to need. It's a vicious cycle and we all become statistics in a world driven by commercial needs, where experts can easily analyse and predict what consumers need based on the information they share online.
There are over one billion websites fuelling the fast-growing World Wide Web - and that's showing no sign of slowing down either. The internet and its internal mega-structured criss-cross of data and information is so large and vast that it's difficult to fully understand its impressive plethora. For instance, there are currently over one billion registered websites, 60 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube every minute (over three billion hours of video are watched each month), 55 million Facebook statuses are posted per day (with 1.79 billion active users per month), 6000 tweets are tweeted every second; corresponding to around 350,000 tweets per minute. Eight billion Snapchat videos are viewed per day, and over 60 million Instagram pictures are uploaded. Every. Single. Day.
Irish people love sharing online and spend on average 19.5 hours online per week. Compared to the 12.1 hours that other Europeans spend online per week, you could say we've crossed the threshold of over-sharing.
Take The Kinsella Bunch: an Irish-Brazillian family of 10 from Cork who documents every moment of their lives on Youtube for the world to see. It's pretty harmless and provides an interesting insight into the lives of a large and busy family. But we must wonder what, if any, are the implications of documenting their children's lives online when they don't fully understand the repercussions. I think I would be beyond mortified had my mam told the world about my first signs of puberty, but then again, many viewers find these types of content very helpful.
And then theres the Sacconejolys -Jonathan, Anna, and their children Emilia and Eduardo who, similarly to The Kinsella Bunch, have turned their hobby of sharing online into a profitable career. The Sacconjolys have racked up over one million followers since they began over one year ago. By opening their lives and homes to the public domain, however, they do leave themselves vulnerable to things like theft and could potentially place themselves in danger.
Computer 'safety' is catching on, though, and from day one we've been taught about one fundamental aspect of proper computer etiquette: passwords (never use 'password' as your password). Then there's knowing not to reply to those emails claiming that a family member has died leaving behind a small fortune, and all we have to do is send our bank details, the importance of always reading the small-print before ticking the box, and that it's not considered polite to steal wifi from your neighbours router or local café (but we do it anyway).
Right To Be Forgotten
What If I Want To Delete My Online Presence?
In short, you can't. Don't panic though as there are ways to minimise your online footprint. 'Deleting' your social media doesn't actually take it down online, but merely deactivates it. If you can't successfully delete your accounts why not change your personal details instead? (Just be sure that you're not stealing anyone else's identity). You'll need to remove old blogs manually, but if you really need something removed online that devalues you - or maybe it's just an embarrassing blog post from your teens - you can use the 'Right To Be Forgotten' rule. This special rule was introduced quite recently and allows users to have certain data deleted so that third persons can no longer trace them. There are lots of helpful guides available online about dismantling sensitive information online but it requires patience and time to fully complete. One positive thing to note is that the new Data Protection Bill will come into effect here in May, meaning individuals will have more control over their own personal data.
Moving forward, it's important to be mindful of cyber security so we can take control of our own big data. Taking small steps like having a secure password (NOT 1234567), not clicking links from unknown sources, and not giving your card information away are good steps to make to protect you and your family from falling victim to data fraud or worse.
So instead of rushing to post your €10.50 sandwich to Insta this lunchtime, take a sec to question if you should and what the repercussions might be...