Technology has enhanced daily living in many ways, creating a high level of convenience and efficiency. The ways it can be used often seem limitless. Unfortunately, as with most things, these benefits typically come with some tradeoffs, and when it comes to using hi-tech innovation, privacy is perhaps one of the largest tradeoffs being made.

What is Data Privacy Day?

Data Privacy Day was designated in 2008 in North America when the United States and Canada adopted it as an extension of Europe's Data Protection Day, according to Stay Safe Online. 1 It is held every year on January 28 and is led by the National Cyber Security Alliance, a non-profit, public private partnership focused on cyber security education.

Credit card theft
Credit: By Don Hankins (Credit Card Theft) CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Purpose of Data Privacy Day

This day each January is designated as an effort to remind people the reasons why they should make an effort to protect their privacy and take control of their online presence through controlling what personal data is streamed.

"We want to raise universal awareness about people respecting the privacy of others and safeguarding their data," says Michael Kaiser, NSCA's executive director.

In the age of online social sharing, it is easy to forget that there is a huge audience out there in cyber land, and many of those watching this information travel the digital highways are often not the good guys. 

Digital Footprints and Data Sharing

In the age of Facebook, Twitter, ecommerce and online banking, to name a few web-based activities, anyone who participates in these activities will leave many digital footprints. These digital footprints leave marks that identity and financial thieves would love to access.  (Although many thieves still go for the dumpster diving payoff to get information).

A January 2013 report by Javelin Strategy & Research said that in 2012 one new identity theft victim occurred every 3 seconds in United States, at a cost of $21 billion. 2 Fast forward a year and the statistics indicated identity theft happened every 2 seconds. 3

Footprints left in the sand at the beach
Credit: Leigh Goessl

Footprints in the sand will quickly wash away, but digital footprints? These do not disappear quite so easily.

Is Privacy a Lost Value?

In addition to financial and identity theft, there is the general erosion of privacy that has been steadily occurring. These days many people perceive privacy as a lost value. Generations of the future may not even know the true meaning of privacy as people have become desensitized in this era of digital sharing, social media, CCTV and other tracking devices.

Protecting one's own information is one thing, but we are also subject to the actions of others where privacy and security are concerned. Many businesses, ranging from the government to business to healthcare facilities and everything in between, are the stewards to the data of millions of consumers. This is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, data breaches are not uncommon and with each exposure, more consumer privacy is lost. In January 2013, in an article published by the Huffington Post, Christopher Burgess, COO and CSO, Atigeo, LLC, writes, "Our privacy was collectively hosed in 2012." 4

Privacy was "hosed" that year in many different ways. And today it continues to be hosed with a growing amount of heaviness. Late 2013 brought the massive Target data breach, and 2014 was a big year for breaches as well with millions and millions of consumer data exposed. In the Home Depot breach alone, the personal details of more than 50 million people was exposed. 5 This incident is now considered one of the largest data exploits in history.

The year 2015 also fared badly when it comes to exposed personally identifiable information (PII). The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) had 22 million government workers breached, which could have serious consequences since those hit had security clearances. Ashley Madison was hacked and 37 million cheaters were exposed, undoubtedly having all sorts of repercussions.  But the mother breach of them all happened to major health insurer, Anthem. An estimated 80 million customer records were exposed.  These were some of the biggest, but there were many more that occurred.

In years past, many organizations were complacent about security, being it was as aspect of business that only generated costs, not revenue. However, this is hopefully beginning to change. As many companies have learned, there comes a hefty price tag associated with a data breach. A 2014 study sponsored by IBM and conducted by Ponemon identified the cost of a breach as $3.5 million in US dollars; a 15 percent increase over the previous year's findings.6

Counting MoneyCredit: Sgt. Stephen M. DeBoard USMC/Public Domain

Is More Privacy Awareness Needed?

As government agencies demand access to digital accounts, search engine histories and more, it seems privacy has begun to hold less value in modern society. Social networks experience privacy setting failures and/or, such in the case of Facebook, make controls so complicated, many users often do not even realize what kinds of information they might be sharing.  Then there is the mobile factor, which many people routinely install apps without so much as the blink of an eye, often quickly handing over personal information.

According to some statistics, teens are posting an increased level of information about themselves online, including real names, photos, videos, birthdays, hometowns, schools and relationship statuses. While many are still opting to keep their mobile phone numbers private, there was a big jump from 2006 to 2012 in the percentage of teens willing to share their phone numbers. 8

Another story that stands out (from 2012) is the fact that many employers and colleges saw fit to demand the Facebook passwords to applicants, employees and students. In years past would these entities have asked for an individual's house keys? Demanding access to social media account passwords equates to trespassing on private property. Should a person be expected to hand over their house keys? Of course not. So why would it be acceptable to ask someone to hand over their virtual keys? It is one thing for employers or schools to look at public information online, but another thing entirely to demand to see what's behind the password.

Set of keys
Credit: Angelsharum/found on Wikimedia Commons/ Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported w/Attribution and Share Alike

Data Privacy Day seeks to heighten awareness of these issues and empower people to protect their digital identities and "become good digital citizens by putting priority on this issue." 7

If anything, the day should serve as a simple reminder for all who use the Internet that privacy is an important value that should not be taken for granted. After all, if not protected now it might not be here in the future. If enough erosion occurs, privacy could be very well washed away for good.