Millennial Report: Privacy Is Dead

The first time I posted a picture of myself on the internet, I was a brace-face fourteen-year-old. I took an unflattering picture on the webcam attached to my family’s shared computer and posted it to MySpace where I thought only my friends could see it. Since then, my entire adolescence has been available for the world to see. You can find old pictures of me on Facebook posed with underwear on my head, and on social apps where I spent years sharing drunken, politically incorrect photos without thinking they’d be available decades later.

But I can’t claim total ignorance — I’ve watched enough CSI to know the “delete” button is just for show. Eventually, I learned that the images I posted weren’t going anywhere, but due to either apathy or naivety, I didn’t care.

Should anyone be surprised that Millennials are generally less concerned about privacy issues than the generations before us, though? We came of age surrounded by technology: we were constantly filmed by video cameras in our faces and religiously updated our social media statuses to reflect what we ate for every meal, so surveillance doesn’t necessarily feel threatening to me.

When I think back to the election and the Russian interference scandal, I’m almost embarrassed to admit I was confused about why any of it mattered. I wondered, who cares if Russia intervenes in the election by creating false stuff online? People put false information online all the time! But I know it’s more sinister than that. It’s just that Millennials are so accustomed to foreign invaders, online or otherwise. Forbes said it best: “It makes sense — after all, millennials stand to inherit a world more torn by conflict and mistrust than seemingly any other generation that came before.” I grew up amidst a war that still hasn’t ended yet. And I’m constantly being hacked by international scammers and receiving scarily real emails that appear to come from my bank but were sent from a different continent. Online interference just feels normal now! But even though aspects of surveillance feel ordinary, I know they’re intrusive.

And Apple does too. Apple’s new tracking transparency will help internet users remain private when searching online, which seems great to the average person like me who thinks that internet cookies are weird and creepy (and possibly less great for small businesses that depend on tracked information for marketing). Cookies were invented to make you fat and happy, not paranoid that Big Brother is watching. In my novice opinion, cookies can be tiered into two levels of sketchiness; it’s one thing for the internet to remember that I searched for athletic clothes, then repeatedly present me with an attractive pair of unaffordable leggings that I clicked on once. But it’s another thing to somehow listen in on my conversations about how I need to exercise more, then give me targeted ads for dumbbells. I refuse to purchase an Alexa or Echo because I’m scared that everything I say will be recorded in a cloud somewhere then rain back down on me when I least expect it, ruining my chances of becoming president in 30 years.

Besides that, surveillance is just plain annoying. Every time I open a new webpage, I’m reminded that my moves are being tracked with a pop-up that I hurriedly click out of. I’m essentially trading all of my information for a quick glance at an expensive blender, but it’s really nice with 10 speeds, so I decide it’s worth the swap.

Don’t get me wrong, Millennials are not in support of nameless entities tracking our every move. That level of surveillance feels like we’re stuck in a Black Mirror episode; we can certainly sense the impending doom that threatens our cyber security and meager bank accounts. But at the same time, we’re jaded, and the thought of someone knowing that I’m spending a lot of time Googling my latest ailments and searching recipes for homemade chicken pot pie feels more pathetic than scary to most Millennials.

—The Soph in Sophelle