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Millennials’ Mindset as to Privacy Violations

Introduction

There are many benefits of using social media, spanning from convenience in communications to finding new friends and business partners. It became so ubiquitous that it started posing questions regarding user privacy and safety. There are real-world examples of how lack of care toward confidentiality may lead to adverse personal and geopolitical outcomes. Improper storage and use of consumer data on behalf of social media websites and other organizations have led to the formation of an entire industry that is based on the sales of personally identifiable information. In this paper, the author will discuss why contemporary youth express little care when it comes to privacy and how such unprotective behavior may lead to adverse health outcomes, and how this abundance of data can be used by companies for their benefit.

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Youth and Privacy

The Internet has become a central element of people’s lives, and it is impossible to be part of contemporary society without being connected to this global network. As the volume of personal data grows, privacy concerns become a point of public focus. Survey results indicate that the majority of internet users are uncertain about how companies and social media websites handle their data (Hoffmann et al., 2016). A substantial portion of the responders share their mistrust and believe that organizations that collect data may use their personal information for dubious purposes (Hoffmann et al., 2016). At the same time, however, users consider themselves to be powerless and unable to control the third-party use of their personally identifiable information (Hoffmann et al., 2016). This combination of attitudes is known as privacy cynicism, and studying this term helps reveal why millennials often neglect privacy despite feeling uncertain. The study suggests that individuals use cynicism as a coping mechanism – they know that their data may be used inadequately but do not express appropriate behavior because they believe that they have no control over the process (Hoffmann et al., 2016). This neglect exacerbates the issue – companies continue to collect without paying adequate attention to appropriately managing their customers’ information.

Corporations use the personal data of their customers in a number of ways. Facebook’s business model is based on advertising, but the company has a competitive advantage over other ad platforms because of how much data its users generate (Hern, 2018). Personal information is valuable for conducting targeted and effective marketing campaigns, which is why big data companies are the most successful in the advertising business (Hern, 2018). Some may argue that this business model is entirely valid and legal, and they would be correct. The issue, however, emerges when personal information is used by third parties without the consent of users. One recent example was the case of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook when data of millions of Americans was used to conduct targeted political ad campaigns in favor of Donald Trump (Hern, 2018). While users are the ones to blame for the incident because most people do not read privacy consent when using an online service, it is evident that data brokerage has become an entire industry (Waldman, 2020). Some companies even collect without any consent on behalf of their users (Waldman, 2020). Therefore, it is imperative to emit protective behavior in terms of privacy.

While Facebook and similar companies collect an enormous amount of data, it is essential to consider how these corporations have access to this information. In the majority of cases, consumers serve as aides – they voluntarily share posts that contain personal pictures and other valuable data. The age of big data has come primarily because people willingly started uploading their private information for public use. Social media websites are full of pictures that can be used to identify where a person lives, their behavior, habits, likes, and dislikes. Scientific evidence suggests that individuals experience happiness when they disclose information about themselves (Freitas, 2017). The reason is that narcissism exists in every person, although in varying magnitudes (Freitas, 2017). The outcome of such behavior is negligent attention to internet privacy (Freitas, 2017). Some people trade privacy with convenience, while others trade it with satisfaction and public acceptance.

Effects on Personalities

When social media websites were first created, they were intended to facilitate communications between people. However, in reality, individuals that spend the majority of their time using social media applications tend to feel socially isolated (Freitas, 2017). Recent research suggests that social isolation has become an epidemic among individuals of young age (Freitas, 2017). To determine the exact causes, however, more research is needed. People may use social media because they feel lonely, or loneliness may be caused by the extensive use of social media (Hobson, 2017). The second option is more realistic because when a person spends too much time online, they do not have enough time for real-world interactions with other people (Freitas, 2017). As a result, the feeling of social isolation emerges, which in turn may lead to adverse mental health outcomes. Another outcome of such an extensive use is the ability for advertisers to have an influence on consumers.

Personal data encompasses much more than a name, surname, and date of birth. By browsing social media websites, users may disclose more information than they would voluntarily. Information about likes, subscriptions, and visited pages can be used to construct a consumer profile that can be later utilized for more effective marketing. Furthermore, advertisers will even have the ability to influence consumers’ personalities by making targeted recommendations. Unnecessary purchases and increased spending are a direct result of personality change caused by advertisements. Numerous articles have been written on how ads can cause a product to be sold within minutes. Such influence can be described as simply evoking the desire to buy. With the use of extensive data sets on individual preferences and habits, however, companies today can change personalities on a fundamental level, causing only incremental impact. The primary objective of such data manipulations is creating emotional bonds between a brand and customers so that they become long-term clients.

Adverse Impacts

Persuading someone to buy a product is not an illegal activity, but lack of privacy and uncontrolled use of social media may lead to more drastic outcomes. Research suggests that 88% of people are confident that uploaded personal information will never be removed from the internet (Aboujaoude, 2019). In case the data is incorrect, a false perception of a person may be created, thereby potentially damaging the individual’s image and reputation. More than 90% of social media users feel that they have lost control over how their information is used and distributed across the web. In fact, this information flow cannot be controlled because users are free to share and forward online content between each other (Aboujaoude, 2019). This lack of proper management depicts a disadvantage of social media – information that one posts online may be eventually used against themselves. Personally identifiable information cannot be wholly deleted once it is placed in the public domain.

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It was mentioned that social media users yield personal happiness when they post their pictures and thoughts online. Not all people using social media websites are equal, and seeing how others lead more successful lives often causes dissatisfaction (Liu et al., 2019). For instance, it has been noted that following celebrities’ social media pages and continuously observing their daily routines may lead to depression (Liu et al., 2019). Recent research results suggest that individuals with low self-esteem are more susceptible to self-dissatisfaction from seeing others’ luxurious lives (Liu et al., 2019). People with high self-esteem are more likely to ignore the lives of others and instead focus on their own ventures (Liu et al., 2019). However, without additional research, it is not possible to fully understand the relation between esteem and exposure to the daily lives of celebrities. Extended time on social media may actually lead to low self-esteem instead of being the result of it. Envy may also result from watching how friends spend their time together while the user is separated by geographical distance. In summary, social media envy is ubiquitous and has implications in terms of mental health. In extreme cases, it may lead to depression and accompanying health conditions.

Studies on Links Between Social Media Use and Suicide
Table 1: Studies on Links Between Social Media Use and Suicide

The use of social media is an entirely voluntary activity, and any person can decide not to use it. However, the safety of consumers and their data is the responsibility of companies that provide this social media service. The lack of care toward privacy on behalf of both users and providers has led to some of the criminal acts being transferred to the digital world. In some cases, exposure to such content may lead to suicides and other severe health outcomes. Cyberbullying is one of the most prominent examples of how social media may lead to stress (Sedgwick et al., 2019). Easy access to communication channels allows offenders to bully others remotely and continuously (Sedgwick et al., 2019). In case the latter has access to compromising information that they found online, they will have the opportunity to blackmail the person. Such adverse digital experiences may force some people to part with their lives (Sedgwick et al., 2019). A number of studies have found links between extensive social media and internet use.

Conclusion

Social media has generated a strong positive impact on both how people interact with each other and how businesses conduct their marketing campaigns. However, privacy-related issues and extensive use of social media continue to have adverse implications in terms of health and consumer safety. The case of Cambridge Analytica proves that lack of concern regarding privacy may lead to drastic political outcomes. In terms of health and safety, uncontrolled social media use may lead to stress, envy, depression, and even suicide. There are numerous studies suggesting that social media use leads to increased suicide attempts among youth. Also, contemporary communication channels may serve as a platform for cyberbullying and blackmailing.

Recommendations

To address the issue of privacy, users first need to start reading privacy consents they accept when using online applications. Almost no person ever reads privacy statements thoroughly, which is why companies feel free to impose whatever privacy policy they find suitable. Cambridge Analytica was able to access the personal information of millions of Facebook users primarily because consumers accepted the terms of the third-party application Cambridge Analytica was using. It is evident that almost no user read the terms before allowing the application to access their personal data. Many people are concerned about their privacy, but they do not emit the corresponding behavior in order to protect their information. Companies need to show that users are in control of their data so that they do not feel powerless.

References

Aboujaoude, E. (2019). Protecting privacy to protect mental health: The new ethical imperative. Journal of Medical Ethics, 45(9), 604-607. Web.

Freitas, D. (2017). The happiness effect: How social media is driving a generation to appear perfect at any cost. Oxford University Press.

Hern, A. (2018). Cambridge Analytica: How did it turn clicks into votes? The Guardian. Web. 

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Hobson, K. (2017). Feeling lonely? Too much time on social media may be why. NPR. Web.

Hoffmann, C. P., Lutz, C., & Ranzini, G. (2016). Privacy cynicism: A new approach to the privacy paradox. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 10(4). Web.

Liu, H., Wu, L., & Li, X. (2019). Social media envy: How experience sharing on social networking sites drives millennials’ aspirational tourism consumption. Journal of Travel Research, 58(3), 355-369. Web.

Sedgwick, R., Epstein, S., Dutta, R., & Ougrin, D. (2019). Social media, internet use and suicide attempts in adolescents. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 32(6), 534-541. Web.

Waldman, A. E. (2020). Cognitive biases, dark patterns, and the ‘privacy paradox’. Current Opinion in Psychology, 31, 105-109. Web.

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