To what extent is privacy realistic in this technologically-advanced age?

As our modern day society progresses down the path of rapid technological advancements, many activities in our everyday lives are now carried out online, be it communication or work. Although this advancement has no doubt brought about significant convenience in our way of life, which can be seen [by how the] vast majority of individuals [are] widely adopting the use of technology in their everyday lives, the perennial debate beckons: How much of our privacy [has] been compromised in this digitalised world? Before delving into this topic, it is important to define privacy as the degree in which a person’s life can be kept to themselves, be it in the form of personal data or even their daily activities. Based on the assumption that it is unrealistic to store data offline in this technologically advanced [age], much of our data being uploaded online simply through the creation of accounts on various platforms, although it may be possible to maintain some forms of privacy, it is undoubtedly realistic to maintain a high level of privacy. In this essay, I will discuss the various reasons as to [why] privacy [in a] digitalised world is mostly unrealistic.

Firstly, privacy is unrealistic due to the sheer amounts of personal data being uploaded to online platforms. Often times, providing basic personal data is a pre-requisite of being able to access and utilise online services. As such, given the convenience of these online services, people often give up their information to these online service providers without thinking twice. An example of this would be the personal information of an individual’s health status that would have to be given up in order to use an online health service platform. As a result of this, personal information of these individuals will be uploaded to the companies’ database to be stored and retrieved when necessary. The issue [with] this is not so much that the data is being given up to these companies, as it is often times used for the correct purposes, but more so when the database is hacked into by third parties with bad intentions, causing the personal information and thus privacy to be compromised. The most recent incident of this was when some hackers managed to access the database of the citizens’ medical reports of several individuals in Singapore, and then subsequently leak these medical reports to the public. One of the leaked medical reports included information on our prime minister. This goes to show that the moment our personal data is being uploaded to a digital platform, it is at a constant threat of being compromised by hackers, and thus simultaneously compromises our privacy. 

However, some individuals may argue that there have been many policies put in place to safeguard our privacy, such as the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), which helps us to maintain our privacy in the technologically-advanced, digitalised world. Furthermore, they also argue that it is on the basis that companies offer guarantees on privacy protection to incentivise patronage, which means it is their utmost priority to protect the information of their patrons in order to maintain their consumer base. Although it is true that there have indeed been policies put in place to increase personal data protection and it is no doubt the intrinsic responsibility of companies to protect the information of their consumers, I believe that this is often times a hopeless battle where the protection of privacy will always fall short. Protection of private information is an endless cycle of companies coming up with new algorithms to protect their digital database while hackers simultaneously attempt to crack the codes. As such, hackers mostly have the upper edge as they are able to attack a database at any [angle], while it is next to impossible for a company to develop an algorithm that has no loopholes or flaws, especially if they do not possess sufficient resources. Thus, as long as there are individuals in society with enough motive and knowledge to hack into a digital database, the compromise of personal data and hence privacy becomes more of an eventuality. As such, I believe that with the amount of personal data being stored on digital databases, privacy in our technologically-advanced society is unrealistic. 

Secondly, I also believe that privacy in our digitalised society [is] unrealistic due to how extensively technology has [infiltrated] our everyday lives. One instance in which technology has [infiltrated] our everyday lives is [our] use of smartphones. With how widely smartphones are being used by individuals in our society in the modern day, not using a smartphone would result in so much inconvenience in the [life] of an individual. Due to the extensive usage of these devices, companies have been finding ways to improve the functionalities of the phone in order to capitalise on the potential revenue that could be generated. An example of a recent innovation of one of these functionalities is the ability of the phone to, through tracking vibration in the skeleton structure of the hip region, track early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. If this is what the smartphone is capable of in the modern day, then there is no doubt that it is also able to carry out simple tracking of the location of the device. As such, unknowingly to the user, their privacy may have been compromised simply due to the fact that their location can be easily tracked by anyone in society who is capable of doing so, resulting in them not being able to keep their daily activities a secret. 

Furthermore, as individuals use online platforms such as Google or Facebook, their activities are tracked by an algorithm which detects their taste[s] and preferences. With this information, on future searches, these platforms offer results that suit their taste[s] and preferences identified by the algorithm. This is in a way also a form of invasion of privacy as there is no consent provided by the user for these platforms to track their usage and browsing history. More importantly, many people are unaware that this happens to them every time they browse the web, which prevents them from even being able to protect their own privacy. Furthermore, the individuals who are aware, do not see this as a problem, which just goes to show how much personal data has already been compromised by individuals in the use of technology when they become willing to give it up. Thus, I believe that the protection of one’s privacy in our digitalised world is unrealistic. 

In conclusion, I believe that the use of technology in our everyday is a double-edged sword, where on one end it is able to provide convenience, and on the other is the compromise of our privacy. I believe that the use of technology is a give and take, where individuals in society [have] somewhat collective[ly] forgone [our] privacy in search of convenience in our everyday lives. As Lee Kuan Yew once said, ‘What you cannot protect, you do not own’. If an individual values the derived convenience from the use of technology over all else, it is only consequential that they will thus be unable to protect their own privacy. As such, I believe that privacy is unrealistic in our technologically-advanced society. 

Maverick Wong (19-A4)