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Privacy in an Age of Data



Life has been made incomparably simple through massive digitization and connection to the internet. Do you lack groceries? There is nothing to worry about because your fridge can order them for you without you even knowing. Did you order vitamin supplements from Amazon? Well, now Amazon, Google and a myriad of other similar services know that you take over-the-counter food supplements and would bombard you with such offers. While this does make our lives easy, one must realize that these services are not truly free. The product that the big multinational companies receive is data about the customer, that is you. In the USA, while what is communicated to a doctor is protected under the so-called HIPAA act, information about the medicines bought is not. Consequently, based on correlations present in the massive data available about an individual, it is possible to conclude private details and even medical conditions that one might be suffering from. Imagine a person searches for baby products on Amazon and looks up neonatal doctors on Google. Correlating this along with other relevant data about this person, it might be possible to conclude that she is pregnant. To add to the misery of this person, their smart watch or phone has a GPS that logs their whereabouts on to a Google or Apple account. This is a massive violation of privacy. Imagine if this data were to land in the hands of potential criminals and stalkers. Then it becomes a cause of security concern as well. What can we as individuals and a society do to combat this novel threat to our well-being? How should laws be made to take care of the potential for misuse of private data?



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