Tip Sheets

Personal data a target for exploitation as COVID-19 forces more users online

Media Contact

Jeff Tyson

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing many to work, learn or get treatment remotely, increasing home internet use dramatically. It is also renewing concerns over online privacy and surveillance.

Stephen Wicker

Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Stephen Wicker, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is an expert in information network privacy issues. He says in the age of increased internet use due to coronavirus, personal data can be collected and manipulated, and that Congress needs to introduce regulations.

Wicker says:

“As we all move into social distancing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, internet use is skyrocketing. Bezeq Israel Telecom reports that web surfing is increasing at a rate of 30% a day, while Telecom Italia has seen a traffic increase of 70% on its landline connections. We are exploiting more creative uses of the web as we Zoom and Skype with teachers, therapists, doctors, and the clergy. What was once done face to face is now conducted online, exploiting the power of faster internet connections.  The internet has become our fallback position as our public spaces become increasingly dangerous. 

“This is thus an ideal time to reflect on the fact that the internet, at least in the United States, is rife with surveillance, perpetuated by corporations and the government. The age of your children, your relationship with your doctor and priest – all of this is now fodder for the those who are in the business of collecting and selling your personal information. The subsequent manipulation practiced by those who buy this information may be particularly dangerous given the levels of stress we are all experiencing as we care for our families and worry about our friends.

“Congress must act now. We need immediate regulations regarding what types of data can be collected and requiring notice to internet users when that data is being collected. The citizens of the United States deserve assurance that their conversations with teachers, doctors, and clergy are safe from monetization and manipulation.” 

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