Online Privacy Laws: Do They Really Work?

Almost every day, you need to decide whether you want convenience or privacy. Location services, personalized search results, messaging apps all make our lives easier. But every time you allow an app to have access to your location, camera, or even your contacts, you’re chipping another piece away from your privacy. 

In the last few years, several privacy laws have come into effect around the world. But much privacy can they actually guarantee? Spoiler alert: Not much.

Data Protection Laws in Europe

The most significant legal change happened in Europe with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

The law is broad and covers how to collect and store data of the EU residents. It has some evident changes in how companies deal with the data of their customers. 

You may have noticed an increase in emails from organizations asking if you want to unsubscribe and remove your data from their servers. The GDPR is also behind the notifications you see about cookies on most websites. 

It may give you a moment to think about things. But the same issues remain. 

These sites still collect your data. If you don’t want them to, you have to navigate through a collection of menus that still results in you at least giving some data away. 

In the first year of its implementation, the GDPR task force took into about 60 million Euros. It may sound like a lot, but 50 million of that was a fine on Google for ads that breached GDPR. And for Google, 50 million Euros isn’t even a drop in the bucket. They took in over $136 billion the same year. 

What About Other Laws?

The GDPR has ushered in a wave of other state and federal laws in North America and Europe. 47 US states now have laws that require companies to disclose if they suffer a data breach involving customer data. While it does help people do know about data breaches, it doesn’t protect them from the harmful effects of cybercrime. 

2020 marks the beginning of the most significant US online privacy law: the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). It requires companies to disclose any data they have about California residents who request it. Organizations must also delete any information about residents when asked. Moreover, residents can go even further by forbidding companies to share their data with other parties and sue for damages if they do. 

It’s still the early days of this act, but like the others, it suffers from a flaw in its premise. These laws count on you taking a proactive approach when it comes to your privacy online. 

Why is that a problem? Ask yourself — how many times have you pressed “Agree” to the cookie policies on the websites? And how many of those times did you take a look at what it says? Not to mention reading lengthy terms and conditions when you start using a product and service. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

In the end, if you want to use a product or service, you need to agree. Sometimes you may not have an option or can’t afford to use a different product or service. But as long as the companies get your consent, they can do whatever they were doing before GDPR, CCPA, and other laws were in force. And if your data is involved, it becomes your fault.

What’s Ahead for Online Privacy Laws

More privacy laws will hit the stage in 2020 and beyond. Look for federal level privacy laws in the US. Likewise, the UK will enact its own rules after Brexit withdrawal. 

But these laws still suffer from a variety of issues. In the first place, they’re not punitive enough. Google’s fines, for example, represented only 0.04% of its operating revenue for that year. Moreover, companies use a wide variety of other techniques, including trackers and other tools to harvest user data. These laws only tackle a few and not all the causes for concern. 

What does it mean for the average user? While it’s better than nothing, you need to take extra measures to improve your privacy in the online world. 

What You Can Do to Have More Privacy

You don’t need to make a compromise between privacy and convenience. You can arm yourself against companies like Google and Facebook while still taking advantage of the latest technologies. 

The first step is to use a VPN. NordVPN is an excellent option. It encrypts and anonymizes your internet connection. Therefore, it enables you to browse and use the internet with a lot more privacy. Online platforms will have less information about you, so you will see fewer targeted ads. Unless, of course, you log in and willingly share information with different sites.

Then, move away from the Google universe. There’s an alternative to every Google product. Here are a few examples: 

  • Search: DuckDuckGo
  • Internet Browser: Epic Browser 
  • Messaging: Signal 
  • Email: ProtonMail 
  • Maps: Open Street Maps 

Each of these alternatives is privacy-oriented and don’t use your data for advertising or other purposes.

Finally, review the privacy settings and permissions for all apps. Turn off location services for social media. Restrict microphone access on your web browser. Don’t give permissions to apps unless they need them to function. Even then, you only need it to have permission while using it. 

In the end, laws do little to protect your privacy in the online world. The only way you can protect yourself is by taking it into your own hands.