Update still loading: Online privacy has a major glitch

By Editorial Board

Our right to privacy is under constant threat, and we don’t seem to mind.

In January, the online chat service Discord shut down a group used to distribute doctored content of female celebrities in pornographic videos made without their consent. The members of the “deepfakes” group created the videos with FakeApp, an artificial intelligence program allowing users to place images of people onto footage. 

Members had rules to only create these videos with celebrities or other public figures. But the program has been used against private citizens on other sites such as Reddit, where users openly stated they used the program on friends, classmates or ex-partners. 

Reddit shut down the thread dedicated to deepfakes Feb. 7, but even though platforms are now working to remove such content, there is no sure way to prevent more of these doctored videos from appearing elsewhere on the internet.

It is also a serious concern that the victims of such content are limited in the legal action they can take. One cannot sue on the basis of defamation, for example, because many of these videos’ creators acknowledge they are fake. Although there has been progress in enacting revenge porn laws, those laws only apply to pornographic content that depict an individual—not the individual’s simulated likeness. 

Such misuse of technology has been a continuing problem, even by police departments.

Chicago startup company Geofeedia, which analyzes social media posts for clients, worked with police departments in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, to track protesters as demonstrations against police brutality erupted across the country. Such invasive means of surveillance by police departments have become all too common. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, police in Boston had been using Geofeedia to track citizens since 2014 without informing its city council. 

Despite the mounting instances of invasions of privacy—either by lone users bent on using technology for malicious intent or by police departments under the guise of security—many seem to have accepted these intrusions of privacy.

One of the most popular current memes jokes about users being spied on by the FBI, which shows we are aware of what is happening but have done little to voice our opposition. 

We do not have to forfeit our rights to privacy and security to exist in the digital age, but we must push for society to seriously address these concerns. 

Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, which passed in 2008 and is the most stringent law of its kind in the U.S., can be a model for the rest of the country to adequately safeguard online users. The law protects residents’ biological information such as fingerprints, facial images and iris scans, and gives plaintiffs the right to sue if their privacy is violated. If an Illinois resident has fallen victim to a deepfakes video creator, they can find justice. 

Online platforms also have a responsibility to ensure their users are safe using their services. Many do not even know how much of their information is available online, and the public must push for these platforms to be transparent and become resources for their users to learn about their online privacy to make the internet a safer place.

Governments and online platforms can act to protect privacy, but individuals still have to be practical and cautious with the information they share.

Our lives largely exist online now, and we must work to ensure our virtual wellbeing.