Editorial: Is ‘internet privacy’ an oxymoron?

October marks National Cyber Security Awareness Month in the United States. Ironically, these past few weeks have revealed WikiLeaks of the Clinton campaign’s emails, videos from 2005 coming back to bite Donald Trump, and Ken Bone’s Reddit paper trail. These incidents have raised questions of our digital footprint in the current technologically-savvy world we live in.

Yahoo is under fire for getting hacked and giving up 500 million user profiles in 2014, which was just confirmed this September. Also, a cyber attack on Oct. 21 led to internet outages across the United States. Issues occurring on a national scale remind us of the fallibility and oxymoronic nature of “internet privacy.”

Since the birth of the internet in the twentieth century, almost every interaction, transaction, and distraction has gone online. This shift has been to the chagrin or delight of people around the world. Some idealistically believe that the digitization of information and tasks will improve the efficacy of economics, healthcare, and personal lives, while others believe that an increasingly pervasive reliance on technology is to the detriment of society as a whole.

If you’ve ever shopped online, sent an email, or even had a cell phone, you have a digital footprint. And it’s hard to imagine someone without at least one of these three things, especially as millennials who came into technology-using age right as flip phones were going out of style and smartphones were being launched.

It’s hard to wrap our heads around this, but any digital activity doesn’t really go away, despite deleting online content or profiles. Anything that has once been online will be there forever, including false or misrepresented information (think the television show Catfish) that can be instrumental in stealing online information such as online banking or shopping accounts.

Everyone has received emails warning of “phishing season” from members of Library & Information Technology. But who actually knows what that means?

According to the University’s newly hired Chief Information Security Officer Chris Bernard, phishing is when a hacker attempts to breach security measures by posing as a legitimate source that needs certain information—bank account numbers, password resets, social security numbers, etc. Students can combat these by remaining vigilant in their online use, and not just accepting that whatever comes via email is to be trusted.

Bernard recommends that students are aware and knowledgeable about the various ways that their online presence could be compromised, and not fall prey to the countless hackers who might be marking millennials as easy targets due to their heightened internet presence.

In an increasingly digitized age, it is important to remember that a digital footprint is written in cement, not sand. It will not brush away with time, and it certainly could come back to haunt you 15 years down the line. While it sounds like an admonition from your healthily skeptical grandparents, safe internet use is growing in importance at the same rate as the rest of technology.

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