Where Do We Draw The Line With Our Digital Privacy?
What, like you don't want to know what I had for lunch on Thursday?
Job Title: Boyfriend of Instagram. Source: Wix Images
It’s no secret that digital privacy is near impossible, and to be honest...I’m fine with it. I know. I mean, I'm not sure if this acceptance comes from being made to feel a sense of validation every time a complete stranger likes a post from 2016 or if I’m just overly naïve, but I’m okay with the whole world being able to see to the highlight reel of my life. I share what I want to share. TBH, I couldn’t really care less if you want to see what I’m up to or not - although lately, I've been thinking - how much is too much? Is my info safe? Should I be paying more attention to the creepy old dudes in my DMs? Should I take a digital detox or just ditch the socials for good?!
Some people choose not to sign up to social media at all. Some share every waking minute, while others (that’s me!) sit somewhere in the middle. All of these preferences are totally valid – who are we to say what someone should or shouldn’t post? – but how much is too much before we give away our total privacy? I mean, think about it - how many people do you know that don’t even have social media? Most likely, there aren’t many, and it’s even more likely that they’re older. In 2018, the Australian Sensis Yellow Report found that in the 18-28 age bracket, a whopping 99% used social media. In contrast, only 47% over 65 considered themselves regular users. That said, in a 2018 report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), 54% of the ‘digital platform users’ surveyed had growing concerns about ‘the privacy of their personal information on digital platforms’.
This didn’t really surprise me.
As the ‘big four’ tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google) have become more and more powerful in recent years, people are questioning how their info is really being used. We've all been there. Like when you're researching the best BBQ as a potential gift for dad online, for the next six weeks you’ll get hundreds of annoying advertisements for BBQ products all across your browser and throughout your social media feeds and you think, man this is so creepy. How do you think this happens?
Basically, the way targeted ads work is through internet cookies and IP addresses. Cookies track your searches, and IP addresses are the basis of where you’re located. The combination of these is what companies use to personalise the ads you see. In recent times, Google has gone into overdrive to assure us that the info they collect is private and they won’t share it. However, after the ACCC alleged Google of misleading Australian consumers about expanded use of personal data in 2020, it’s hard to be sure whether our info and what we post is really in safe hands.
Personally, I don’t share on the socials that often (although, I'm trying to up my 'gram game a bit). I use it to document moments in my life and to keep up with everyone else. The funny thing is, I have never even met most of the people I share with, but for some reason (probably addiction) I feel the need to stay connected. I don’t post mainly because I forget, don’t feel the need to, or am telling myself I’m not good enough or interesting enough in comparison to the lives we see of influencers. When I do post, it’s usually shared publicly. I often tag my location in my posts and my phone number is linked to my Facebook and Snapchat accounts (note from old editors Jess and Nikki: we are terrified for you, young lady!)
Previously, as a Gen Z-er, I wasn’t so worried about my digital privacy. However, since studying it at uni last year, I’ve realised I have perhaps been a bit ignorant of how carefree I am about what I share publicly, and should probably be warier. But that’s not always as easy as it sounds.
We’ve always been told that when you delete something online, it’s never really gone. As soon as you search for something, create a social media account, make your first post or check into where you went on holiday, you start creating a trail of info about yourself - your 'digital footprint'. Whether you share everything about your life online or hardly anything at all, it's near impossible to take it back once we’ve let go.
What I found interesting from the ACCC’s earlier findings was that only 44% of 18-24-year-olds really cared about their privacy – reiterating the idea that privacy concerns are only something older generations care about. Take LAL fav and Gen X-er Jennifer Aniston: her career survived just fine without social media for decades. When she joined Instagram in October 2019, she broke the internet, becoming the fastest account at the time to reach a million followers:
They're really all our friends, right? Source: Jennifer Aniston, Instagram
Despite finally giving in to the world of social media, Jen still chooses to live a relatively private life online. Yeah, she posts the occasional throwback, behind the scenes prep for red carpet events and promotes things like wearing a mask and the need to vote. However, she doesn’t seem to feel the need to post what she had for lunch on Thursday (something I do far too often #sorrynotsorry).
Exhibit A: The story highlight on my Instagram dedicated entirely to food. Source: Supplied.
I mean, unless you’ve been living in Monica’s secret junk closet for the last 30-odd years, you’ll know that Jennifer Aniston acquired her fame offline. But in the new world of social media, this is where people can make legitimate careers.
One such person is Emma Stevens, or what the Influencer Marketing Hub would call a ‘micro-influencer’. She started making digital content for fun in 2017, and has developed it into a growing monetised platform where she shares her life as a uni student in New Zealand. Before becoming a bit of an overnight success, Emma saw social media influencers like a lot of us do – “I thought that all influencers were living this ‘perfect’ life, everything was smooth sailing, nothing much went on behind the scenes – but I was very much wrong.”
Diary of a micro-influencer. Source: @em.ma_stevens, Instagram
After gaining 8k subscribers in a week (Note from Nikki and Jess: tell us how immediately pls), Emma’s opinion changed. “I think people unintentionally put ‘influencers’ on a pedestal, but we are just normal people. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes that people have no idea about, including emails, logistical things, accounting, etc. It’s very easy to think influencers are living in a holiday 24/7 but that is absolutely not the case”. In chatting with Emma about what she shares online and how much is too much, she explained that while she appears to be a fairly open book, “There’s a lot of info I don’t put up. What I do share is fairly generic, so I’m not overly worried.”
When it comes to deciding between what to post and what not to, it may seem like we see most of what goes on in Emma’s life. In reality, she still values her privacy. “When it comes to my personal information, relationships, family and so on, that’s normally where I draw the line.” I suppose even though following makes us feel entitled to know about the lives of influencers such as Emma, like anyone else, they still value their privacy.
And then there are people like me. I’d say I sit somewhere in the middle of the non-social media users and influencers like Emma Stevens. So pretty much, I’m just like Jennifer Aniston – just minus the cool bits.
Party for one? Source: Supplied.
What do you think of online privacy and sharing? How much is too much?