“How much of your life can we get you to give us?”
This is the tongue-in-cheek question posed by Roger McNamee, a venture capitalist and early investor at Facebook, at the start of Netflix’s ‘The Social Dilemma’. If you haven’t seen it, The Social Dilemma is a jarring documentary that sees tech experts rail against the platforms they helped to create.
The lives of Gen Z (born 1995-2010) are dominated by these platforms – they are at the heart of our social and working lives. Each day, we log into social media and productivity apps from our Apple and Google-based devices. A 2019 study put the average daily screen time for 16-24 year olds at just under 4 hours. Given that participants were self-reporting, it is not a leap to suggest that in reality this figure is much larger.
Extensive screen time becomes problematic when you consider the fact that Gen Z is touted to be the first generation that does not share a collective memory of the world before smartphones – they are ubiquitous. Smartphones have dominated our lives and yet not many of us can claim knowledge about how they work. Being oblivious to how devices work is not new, but it is less of a problem with cars, toasters and washing machines because we broadly trust mechanics and engineers. Somewhere along the way however, we ascribed this same trust to the software engineers that now represent Big Tech.
This trust is betrayed on a daily basis by some in the tech space. On the one hand are the adverts for products you spoke about only an hour previously, which platforms know about because they track and send screenshots of your interactions to third parties, including what you type and later delete. On the other hand is the disregard for protecting personal data, as exemplified by the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw Facebook stand by while a third party app harvested the personal data of 87 million users without consent.
Among my generation, there are two typical responses to the malpractice of Big Tech. Most respond to privacy concerns with apathy, whereas others respond with actions that seek to protect their data.
The apathetic argument takes the line “I have nothing to hide”. This argument misses the point, which is that online privacy is not about hiding nefarious information but about protecting sensitive information from nefarious actors. For the most part, people do not use platforms for illicit purposes, but that doesn’t mean that they should be an entirely open and transparent ecosystem. If someone were to piece together enough seemingly inconsequential pieces of your personal data then they would have a good idea of how you live your life (where you work, where you shop, who you interact with) and therefore how to disrupt it.
On the other side of Gen Z you have the privacy-conscious. Aspirationally, I would put myself in this category. My version of this involves choosing products that put me in control of my data. This includes using a browser that doesn’t collect or share your search history and personal information. It also includes using and promoting a videoconferencing, file-share and messaging suite that uses industry-leading encryption to deliver unrivalled user security.
It is however a gradual process and I am aware of the contradictions of promoting privacy and still having active Facebook and Gmail accounts. That said, I am committed to taking extra steps to shore up my privacy online.
Next on the list is finding a reliable virtual private network (VPN). VPNs direct your internet traffic through anonymous servers so that your online activity is not visible to those who are also using the same network. After that, I intend to move to an encrypted email service, meaning the content of my emails will not be processed and sold to advertisers as leading providers do. The ultimate aim is to reduce my social media footprint and support campaigns which push for privacy in Big Tech. In the end, I hope to take back what part of my life I may have given over to companies that prioritise profit over privacy.
For companies selling to Gen Z, taking data privacy seriously is no longer optional. Secured Communications hears this louder than most. Mercury, our corporate communications suite, starts with security. We use industry-leading encryption to protect your information and we never harvest data. We hand total control of the product to users, putting you firmly in charge of a private ecosystem. Above all, privacy is our default, because any other starting point is unsatisfactory.