The pandemic changed our lifestyle in drastic ways. It restricted face-to-face interactions, halted business operations, etc. Consequently, we all had to shift to the digital world. We had to adjust to the new normal – the online space – whether we loved it there or not. Our perspective of the digital world didn't matter. It was the only option we had to embrace to connect with family, friends, work colleagues, etc.
Words like remote-jobs, telemedicine, and other not commonly-used phrases crept into our lexicons since our lifestyle revolved around them at the time. Even now, these words are stuck with us. Surprisingly, not just the vocabulary stayed with us, but the practices too.
COVID-19 had us doing almost all our shopping online. We held meetings on virtual spaces like Google Meet, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. Patients consulted doctors through health apps. To protect their citizens, even governments developed a contact tracking app. The device located infected persons and those at a high of manifesting the virus symptoms. Unfortunately, the pandemic didn't still put a pause on its effects there. Instead, it moved further to affect our privacy and attitude toward it.
Amid the pandemic, there was an increased need to share data in the form of medical history. We also shared excess contact information with several apps, websites, online marketplaces, etc. They all had access to our location, IP address, Mac address, credit card details, usernames, passwords, and other personally identifiable information (PII).
Being in a democratic state where every action is subject to scrutiny makes the citizens quite confident when giving out their data to the government. However, the scrutiny levels pre-pandemic, during the pandemic, and post-pandemic are not the same. One common factor with these three eras is that we are all being monitored through trackers implanted on our devices, browsers, and the sites we visit.
Evidence from a heavily restricted system like China has shown us how the government can use data pooled from a central database to track down dissidents, police the citizens, and deny the basic rights they are entitled to as humans.
It is widely accepted that the profit of online stores shot up exponentially during the pandemic, as people had to rely on them to get their daily lives going. Besides, most of these stores induced panic buying in their customers during the pandemic. This act led most of them to share their data with unknown and untrusted online stores to get what they needed before the lockdown. As a result, these stores had a vast amount of information.
They used this information to study the customers' behavior further, analyze them and use them to dictate what they want customers to buy rather than leaving them to make their own choices. This thereby eroded consumer trust in online sellers.
Let's consider the health industry; a seismic shift from physical to virtual diagnostics caused by the pandemic led to information gathering by medical apps. In a world where profit takes pre-eminence over human health, some apps sell these data to companies that use them to predict the demographics of a particular disease.
Likewise, they used the data to make near accurate meta-analysis about the effect of the COVID-19 based on live feedback from the public. They also sold respondents’ data to research organizations to exploit the citizens who gave themselves away as a study plan unknowingly, thereby profiting off their ignorance and pooling more resources.
Bad actors will sell data from phishing scams to data-driven corporations, which will extract the data to target consumers and promote certain products and services.
The pandemic made us all a hermit, and our disposition as customers and businesses toward privacy changed. To adjust, we must reduce the volume of information we share with companies. Businesses alike must collect and use customer data transparently. Government, too, should use its citizens' data fairly.