More people are spending an increasing amount of time online for both professional and social reasons. As such, the issue of privacy on the internet has gradually evolved into an important facet of online activities.
In recent times, companies and individuals deemed to be in breach of other users’ privacy on the internet have come under heavy criticism. Some have even faced dire consequences, such as the Huawei ban imposed by the US over privacy concerns.
One emerging issue is the case of privacy, and its effect on mental health, which proves privacy online is good for several reasons:
Protecting your personal digital space
In many respects, our online presence is an extension of our personal lives; just like your home, it is your space to unwind, study, or socialize with other users.
Maintaining privacy on the internet ensures we have a place to create, collaborate, and explore without any unwanted intrusion or interference. Like the physical world, the internet has evolved through millions of interconnections on a global scale to offer us virtual space uninhibited by time or space.
Conversely, new developments like the Metaverse have the potential to unlock even more immersive experiences on the internet. You can expect privacy will become even more critical to internet users.
The advent of social media and its integration into our personal and professional lives has led to several privacy concerns. Social media allows us to engage with others who share similar interests, make friends, and “hang out” in the digital realm.
As far as your mental health is concerned, your privacy on social media platforms prevents cybercriminals from accessing your social media info and that of your loved ones. Young children are particularly susceptible to unmoderated content such as violence, extremist views, and unwanted approaches by strangers in the absence of adequate privacy.
It is essential to constantly update your user privacy settings to make sure your online privacy is uncompromised through your social interaction. And you shouldn’t accept friendship requests from people you don’t know. If you still feel like doing so, run their name through Nuwber to check if they are worth sharing your internet life with.
Prevent identity theft
Recently, identity theft has been a menace due to how we share personal information online. This practice comes in many forms, with medical, financial, and criminal thefts being the most common. Thousands of cases are reported to law enforcement agencies every year where criminals using false identities fraudulently extort money from their victims. Being the victim of identity theft may expose you to stress and make your online experience very frustrating. Websites that ask for sensitive personal information should be approached cautiously.
If you are transacting online, double-check that the website is secure – one that uses HTTPS protocol. Any suspicious activity or alerts on your accounts should always be reported to the service provider immediately.
Control what you see and hear
In today’s internet age, the apps, websites, and online services you use frequently are interconnected, sometimes without your consent. Notice how your YouTube suggestions, for instance, mirror your recent google searches. With this in mind, it is often easy to come across content that nudges you towards some actions, purchases, or thought patterns that you may not necessarily agree with.
Some content may expose you to certain subliminal forms of radicalization, disagreeability, or other more overt forms of deviance. Such instances are especially rampant for younger internet users. Impressionable users may fail to realize the effect of what they are being exposed to. An online environment governed by privacy goes a long way in protecting your mental well-being.
The marketers trap
Marketers have become aggressive, particularly on the internet. Whenever you fill out an online form before you access a service online, you give out information that’s stored in a database. Most of this information arguably ends up in the hands of a third party for analytics or, more often than not, as an outright purchase.
Some studies have found discriminatory ads targeted at particular groups without regard for consent or belief systems. For instance, credit card companies may target younger individuals, ultimately leading to debt through the allure of cheap credit.
These practices are hard to detect and often lead to mental distress from addiction and irrational decision-making.
Researchers have found a strong correlation between mental health issues and internet usage due to privacy loopholes. We are constantly bombarded by picture-perfect depictions of other people’s lives online on Instagram and Facebook. Now more than ever, we compare ourselves with other people who live halfway across the world.
This is a harmful and dangerous mental mindset as we fail to take into account that, more often than not, these people’s lives are highly scripted. Comparing ourselves with others in this unhealthy way is one of the leading causes of depression. We fail to focus on our own lives and how to improve ourselves and instead highlight our shortcomings.
The curious case of cancel culture
Cancel culture refers to actions by society, primarily through their online activities. Individuals are sometimes literally cast out of society or, in this case, shamed and berated for behavior generally deemed to be socially ‘off’.
The caveat here lies in how these individuals are shunned for something they supposedly said or did. This privacy concern directly affects these people’s mental state. Unfortunately, the verdict is often at the hands of random keyboard warriors miles away. Such actions cause great mental anguish and, in many cases, spread to close associates and family members.
Big Brother is watching
In some cases, the government may overstep its authority and infringe on user privacy without any legal basis. Claims of citizens’ activities being watched by government agencies under the disguise of ambiguous terms like national security are on the increase. People feel like they cannot be themselves because someone is watching. It essentially creates a mental trap where anxiety roams free, and nobody feels like they have any privacy.
Cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and scams have become as common as crimes in the physical world. Unfortunately, most of these online perpetrators always walk free. Cybercriminals use sophisticated malware and spyware to access internet users’ personal information, which they may exploit to extort or harass their targets. This is a serious mental health concern for anyone, as the initiators of these attacks can literally pick anyone from whichever part of the world.
The digital space can be a powerful way to air your views and support ideologies that align with yours. An online space that doesn’t guarantee your privacy stifles this freedom of speech because you constantly have to look over your shoulder. Activist movements promoting social justice and calling out malpractices need to focus on online privacy. It will go a long way in fostering mental well-being in this modern world.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.