What level of privacy can we expect online?

Jun 16, 2020, 5:12 AM | Updated: 5:30 am

Tech analyst Larry Magid recently wrote a post in which he said that the internet is out of control, and as KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross jokingly asked, what gave him the first clue? Magid joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss digital activism and the expectation of privacy online.

“It just struck me that the country and the internet are kind of reflections of each other,” Magid said. “And no, it’s never fully been in control. Nor should it be in control in the sense that it that should be dominated by any ideology or any entity.”

“But just the amount of fake news, misinformation, cyberbullying, political trolling that’s going on right now. I go online and I just get a little bit more depressed than I used to,” he added.

What’s concerning for many is when the internet being combed for data that you thought was private, and as search engines get smarter and even get into facial recognition, one could suddenly find themselves part of an investigation where they recognize your face in any context.

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“So you are taking a risk,” Magid said. “If you were out there, for example, expressing your political views or saying things that could get you in trouble at some point, in any kind of a public or semi-public feed … there is a possibility that that information could be used against you, so you essentially have no expectation of privacy.”

And while we may seem to protect ourselves, much can be inferred by our conduct online.

“There’s all sorts of things you can determine about a person from their feed … You can infer political persuasions, even if they never state it, usually by looking at their friends and things of that nature,” Magid explained. “So don’t think that just because you aren’t saying things blatantly on social media doesn’t mean that people can’t get, in a sense, a profile of you.”

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As Dave noted, recent stories allege that federal investigators have been combing Facebook to hunt down rioters and looters as a result of these these demonstrations going across the country. But while it’s improving, facial recognition has been shown to remain highly flawed.

“It’s especially problematic when it comes to people of color, and I don’t think that’s a deliberate bias, but I think there is something about the algorithms that have trouble dealing with different skin tones,” Magid said. “Of course, there is this notion of garbage in, garbage out, which is that algorithms are written by people. People have biases.”

“Then there is this notion of do we want to live in a society where anybody can simply identify you based on a photograph or walking by a camera, without any form of due process?”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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What level of privacy can we expect online?