Towards transparency and privacy in the online advertising business

Privacy in the Information Society – Part 1

In addition to being a fundamental right, privacy is a determining factor in the exercise of power that affects directly the freedom and creativity of the citizens. In this two-part article we analyse why privacy is important, which improvements have been introduced by the new technologies in relation to the treatment of our personal information, which is the perception of the citizens and how to move towards a sustainable ecosystem that improves the confidence between the users and the different agents who intervene in our privacy. We live in an increasingly global and interconnected world, one in which there is more information about the privacy of the citizens generated by the environment agents: devices, social networks, vigilance systems, etc. We come to the conclusion that the balance of the ecosystem is ruled by the next equation:

control + transparency + trust + business


Privacy is the right that we have to keep in our intimacy a part of what we do, we say or think and the right to decide which part of this privacy we want to share and with whom.

There are dozens of studies that demonstrate that when someone knows that he might be being observed, his behaviour becomes more conformist and complaisant. Shame is a powerful motive and so is the desire to avoid it, and this is the reason why when we are being monitored, we take decisions that are not a product of our own natural impulse, but of the expectations that the others have put on us and of the principles and rules accepted by the society that surrounds us.

It is true that as humans we are social beings, which means that we need other people, knowing what they do, say or think, and it’s because of this need that we voluntarily publish information about ourselves on the Internet. However, it is also true that to have the feeling of freedom we need spaces away from the sight of other people. There is a fundamental reason for which we all look for this space, and it is a very simple reason: all of us, not only terrorists or criminals, all of us – have things to hide. There are things that we are willing to share with our doctor, attorney, wife or best friend but that will put us in serious trouble if they were public.

A society in which the people can be controlled at all times is a society that promotes conformity, obedience and submission. All totalitarian regimes share the will to control people’s privacy in order to exercise their power.

Not less important is the privacy needed for innovation and creativity which comes from spaces where we can think, reason, interact and speak without the judicious eyes of others on us. Spaces to explore and advance in ideas that go against the order and rules in progress. How many people along history have paid with their life for expressing a different point of view from what was established, only to be proven correct later on. Free societies must support a good balance for privacy to allow a bloom in innovation.

Another, just as important, aspect is the right to have a second opportunity in life, something that becomes limited if we cannot keep private certain pieces of information from our past that can have adverse effects in the present or future.


Technology is changing the paradigm of privacy mainly because of the amount of personal information that is generated and stored every day in an abstract entity that we have called the Internet. To have an idea of the dimension we just need observe this data:

  • There are over 3.4 billion Internet users in the world, there are more mobile phones that people and every instant there are more than 1.5 million users active on Facebook.
  • Every day over 350 million photographs are uploaded to the Internet and over 205 trillion e-mails are sent.
  • Every minute 2.5 million searches are done, 20.8 million WhatsApp messages are sent, and 400.000 Tweets are written.

To this, it is necessary adding other realities that already exist such as wearable devices that register all our activity, even our vitals, the facial recognition that identifies anyone in a picture that has been uploaded on a social network, or the millions of devices sharing information that in many cases affect our privacy directly.

All this information is saved in different servers located in different countries, in many cases processed and the individuals able to access it are rarely known.

Read Part 2 of this blog article here.

About the author
Miguel Pérez Subías | AUI

Miguel Pérez Subías | AUI

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