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Saturday, June 22, 2024

How to Advocate for Data Privacy and Users' Rights

Your Facebook is no longer a naked-to-the-public firehose of information about your family and social life. Your mobile phone is as do-not-track as you’re able to function under. You cover your webcam lens when it’s not in use.

In short, you’ve done what you can to mitigate the way the current world seeks to share and expose your personal information. It takes energy and knowledge to break away from the default settings of digital devices, social networks, and retailers seeking more, more, more information. But you’ve done it, at least what you can. You feel pretty good about safeguarding some (but not all) of your private data and being proactive about it.

So what’s this nagging feeling in the back of your skull? Do you sometimes feel like you could be doing even more in the battle to protect citizens from the overreach of data scrapers and tech moguls who value monetization over individual rights?

It takes a lot of committed people to fight these battles in courtrooms, in the digital marketplace, and on the platforms themselves (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, among others) that have become battlegrounds for our data. You could be one of these people: an advocate for data privacy who is actively involved in helping protect us all.

Advocacy Near Home

Getting your own house in order in regards to privacy could mean literally getting your house in order. Setting up a VPN (virtual private network) service for your entire household, for instance, can offer your entire family a shield to prying eyes online, including threats from hackers, although finding a reputable one with strong data privacy policies that also won’t scoop up your data can itself be a challenge.

If you have kids old enough to join social networks (the legal age is 13 in the US), take the time to help them set up and understand their privacy settings, especially on social networks that have a poor track record on that front (such as Facebook and TikTok). The same goes for online game networks they might play on such as Nintendo Online or the PlayStation Network, not to mention popular games like Roblox and Minecraft (which is owned by Microsoft, who also operates Xbox Live, which also has social features).

Similarly, stay in the loop on new policies and legal changes that could affect the way companies handle your kids’ data. You should also learn how your kids’ school and school district handle issues such as data on school devices, software in schools, and surveillance cameras on campus.

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You don’t want to be the person who posts hoaxes about how Facebook is going to use your photos and information, but spreading the word from legit sources to extended family and friends about good privacy hygiene is one way to raise awareness of the problems that exist. The United States Privacy Digest from the International Association of Privacy Professionals, The Hacker News, Privacy International, and—not to toot our own horn—WIRED’s own coverage of privacy issues are good places to get informed or search for specific stories around these topics.

Take Your Advocacy Public

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (or EFF) is a civil liberties nonprofit founded in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1990. It’s been carrying the torch for fighting threats to free speech and privacy ever since. The EFF says it has seen a recent “big uptick” in interest from people wanting to protect privacy on their phone; for instance, there are 100,000 views on a post about disabling Ad ID on iOS and Android devices. “We are clearly seeing that people are increasingly concerned about digital rights,” says Karen Gullo, analyst and senior media relations specialist at EFF. 

The organization offered WIRED a list of things you can do if you’d like to get more involved in advocating for data privacy.

To start with, find out where your local and state lawmakers stand on privacy and make your own voice heard. Call or email them, or speak up at town halls and other meetings. “Check with your local city council to see if they have a committee that is looking into data-privacy issues, or suggest that they form one,” says Gullo. “Ask for a citizen advocate to be part of that committee.”

You could also form your own committee, briefing those local officials on data policies and threats, and informing the public with talks at local libraries and other public locations. The EFF pointed to Oakland Privacy, a citizen’s coalition that succeeded in this kind of effort; the group helped get an ordinance passed requiring towns in its area to be transparent about surveillance technology.

The EFF is currently pushing the My Body, My Data Act, which would protect personal health care data related to reproductive rights. You can learn how to take action to support this act on the EFF’s website.

Similarly, the Electronic Frontier Association itself is comprised of grassroots digital-rights advocacy groups in cities and campuses across the country, and they may be looking for volunteers in your area. You can get involved with security training projects and educational events through an existing chapter, or by starting your own coalition.

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