Why We Need to Raise Awareness for Personal Data Protection

Manfred Pohl, Spotlight Europe
“Every internet bully is a weakling.” (picture: Remix by Spotlight Europe)

Smartphones have developed into a constant companion in our daily lives. Everything that we consider important while we are on the go is saved via a simple swift movement of our fingers. It only takes a couple of seconds to take a picture with the built-in camera and to upload it on a social network platform. There, friends and family can see where we are and what we are doing.

It has never been easier to produce data about our lives and to make them visible to our social environment. We may do so in the belief that this data belongs to us and that we can decide at any stage of its distribution which parts we are going to make public and which not.

Many do not know, however, that this is a fatal error. Your data can be used against you by people you possibly do not know. It is by no means a pleasant feeling when strangers possess something that belongs to your private life – but sadly this happens all too often in real life and the crucial point is that people too easily trust in smartphone technology.

Smartphone with apps, Spotlight Europe
Devil in the detail. (Flickr: Highways Agency/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

It starts with used smartphones that are being resold on the internet or in small shops. Sellers trust in the delete function and believe that all their data – photographs, mail accounts, passwords, social media apps – are entirely wiped out from the device. That is not true at all. It is easy to recover data, regardless of how and where it was deleted. In fact there are specialized shops that offer this very service. Still, you do not need to be an expert as there are a lot of instructions and free recovery programmes on the internet that promise to reclaim deleted data.

In some particular cases this possibility seems to be a fortunate method – e.g. when the police is using the recovered data to find a culprit or if you accidently deleted some important pictures from your smartphone. On the other hand, this technology conceals its criminal potential. Data thieves may blackmail the former owner of the device or use the information for other criminal purposes.

That is only one side of the security problem when our personal data is concerned. It is not only through used smartphones that information may end up in the wrong hands. If a picture for example is shared on the web, you cannot foresee its possible circulation. It may reach people who use it for discrimination or for their personal amusement. You believe that you legally own the right to your picture, but in fact you have lost the power to decide who uses it and to what end.

“Data is being shared all too carelessly”

Especially cyber bullying has become a big issue among adolescents nowadays. Data is being shared all too carelessly with false friends. The victims often feel helpless and even blackmailed when they lose their power to decide upon the use of their data or when making the effort to bring back information to its correct context.

We need to raise awareness among the youth that their data is vulnerable at any moment and that they therefore should reconsider what they truly want to share about their lives and what not. Many social platforms offer easy settings to protect the privacy of shared content. As for the smartphones: To be on the safe side, throw them away or spam them several times with useless data.

And what could be the motivation behind these cyber bullies to spy on other people’s lives and to use their private data to harm them? Is it the disability to deal with the problems of one’s own daily routine? Is it frustration, aggression or even both?

There may be much guessing. It is a fact, however, that someone who bullies in the cyberspace is a weakling.

About the author:

MP1Prof. Dr. Manfred Pohl is the Founder and Chairman of Frankfurter Zukunftsrat, the think tank that organises “My Europe”. more…

We Are All Black Cats

Concentration camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, Spotlight Europe
Can you imagine a world where cats kill other cats just because they have black fur? Concentration camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland. (Picture taken by Alessia Tavarone, remix by Spotlight Europe)

Can you imagine a world where cats kill other cats just because they have black fur? Or can you imagine a world in which animals marginalize dogs just because they are loyal to men?

I think not. Nevertheless this world exists, but not for animals, they do not have this kind of evil. But man, yes.

Think about it. We live in a world where people are denigrated because of the color of their skin, a world in which religion is still a matter of discrimination and violence.

Visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau Poland, Spotlight Europe
“But that is not the past, not just history, it is real life.” Alessia´s trip to Auschwitz left her thinking about parallels between past and present.(Picture taken by Alessia Tavarone)

On January 27, we celebrate the World Day of Memorial, a day to remember the events that changed the history of humanity: the Holocaust. The Nazi madness, with the collaboration of several European states, led to the deaths of more than fifteen million people during the Second World War. We all know the events that distorted the history of mankind and destroyed Europe, and we are used to think of those events as in the past. But that is not the past, not just history, it is real life. We read the stories of survivors, we see epic films that recount those years and sometimes we look at things with distance, as if what happened does not concern us.

I made a trip to Poland. I entered in the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was exactly what I had seen in many photographs and films. It was exactly the same, but it was totally different. Why? Because it was true. I was there.

Barbed Wire Fence, Auschwitz-Birkenau Poland, Spotlight Europe
“Because it was true. I was there.” (Picture taken by Alessia Tavarone)

I walked along the streets that the prisoners crossed to go to hard labor, I saw the ruins of the crematory ovens, I entered in brick huts where prisoners slept huddled together. It was so cold. The wind was so cold to stop me. I could not talk, I could not walk, I was only able to sit still and tremble. I was well-fed, healthy, and I had three sweaters, coat, cap, scarf, gloves, boots and yet I trembled. They had only a pair of pajamas, were malnourished and subjected to forced labor. I thought “how could they resist even one day in the cold?”. It is not humanly possible.

Then I realized the horror, the pain and suffering that those people must have felt. It goes far beyond our comprehension. At that moment I realized how deep darkness can be in the human heart.

Do not think that this is something away from you. Seventy years have passed and the blood of those people is still in Europe. Yet the recent terrorist attacks in Paris suggest that mankind still has not learned from its mistakes.

“At that moment I realized how deep darkness can be in the human heart.”

Yet people kill for religion and this is everybody’s problem. There is war in the Middle East, but also the heart of Europe is suffering the consequences, as in Paris. Do not think that the problem is the Muslims. Yesterday the Ku Klux Klan in America was against black people, yesterday there was anti-Semitism in Europe, yesterday there were the Christian crusades that caused millions of victims in the name of God.

So the question is this: have pain, death, repentance, compassion and hope not taught you anything? Are all these things are still served if you kill a man for his religion, for his race, for his political views?

Hatred exists, just as love exists, but this awareness should not leave us without hope. The solution exists: respect for life.

Transportation carriage, Spotlight Europe
“There is no right, no wrong. There is the difference that must be respected and loved.”(Picture taken by Alessia Tavarone, Detail)

As the dream of Martin Luther King in a world where people are together and the skin color does not matter, like a Jew child and a German child playing together, as an Israeli who embraces a Palestinian, as a Christian who accepts a Muslim. There is no right, no wrong. There is the difference that must be respected and loved. Look at yourself in the mirror; you are different from anyone else in this world. Is it bad? No, it is special.

Europe can no longer accept this ignorance and intolerance. Enough violence, stop wars, it is time to promote peace and equality among men, because without this Europe itself cannot exist. Can you imagine a world where cats kill cats because they are blacks? No. Then do not accept a world where men kill other people just because they are different.

Change the world. Promote respect, promote peace.

About the author:
Picture Alessia Tavarone 2, Spotlight Europe
Alessia – Author at Spotlight Europe

Alessia (24) participated at the “My Europe” workshop in Milan, Italy, in 2012. She is an active Member in the Youth Council for the Future.