January 28 is Data Privacy Day in North America and Europe. The day was created to bring attention to online privacy. “Data Privacy Day is an international celebration of the dignity of the individual expressed through personal information,” according to The Privacy Projects, a non-profit think tank dedicated to privacy and data protection. Back when people first began using the Web, there was a lot of public concern about safety. Remember the early days of e-commerce, when putting a credit card number out there in cyberspace was something you hesitated to do? Going back even further, were the initial passwords you used (Prodigy or AOL logins, first email account) more complex than the new ones you use today?

We’re so desensitized to the act of setting up an online profile that we get sloppy with passwords, reuse them, choose the simplest of configurations. Instead of a cause of legitimate reflection or concern, the process of password selection is an obstacle to content.

The Privacy Projects write: “In this networked world, in which we are thoroughly digitized, with our identities, locations, actions, purchases, associations, movements, and histories stored as so many bits and bytes, we have to ask – who is collecting all of this – what are they doing with it  – with whom are they sharing it?  Most of all, individuals are asking ‘How can I protect my information from being misused?’  These are reasonable questions to ask – we should all want to know the answers.”

With the recent changes to Facebook’s privacy settings – which are being investigated (again) by the Canadian Office of the Privacy Commissioner – attention is (again) being brought to how insecure our private data can be. It is perhaps telling that even though there was a huge outcry in the press and in somewhat of one in governmental circles, the one group that seemed the least concerned were Facebook users themselves.

It seems like the less secure our data becomes, the less a lot of people really care.

To celebrate Data Privacy Day, members of business, academia, government and the non-profit sector in North America and Europe hosted events designed to explore a multitude of issues in online privacy. A complete list is available on Data Privacy Day's website.

By Mark Alvarez