Voices of Privacy aims to raise awareness, spur action about information privacy
You know the scenario: You scroll through social media and come across an article that piques your interest. You follow the link to a page, where you are met with a pop-up asking you to consent to have your data tracked via cookies. You almost instinctively click yes.
Just like that, in a matter of nanoseconds, you’ve consented to have your data tracked, collected, and analyzed by a website that you may or may not ever visit again.
Under this common scenario, it would be easy to assume that online privacy is dead. Or, at the very least, on life support.
Not so, said France Bélanger.
“We cannot give up. Privacy is not dead.”
Fighting for privacy is one of the reasons why Bélanger, University Distinguished Professor in Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business Department of Accounting and Information Systems, has partnered with Donna Wertalik, professor of practice in the marketing department, to create Voices of Privacy.
A first-of-its-kind initiative, Voices of Privacy combines video episodes on the web – or webisodes – as well as a range of resources available on its website, including expert interviews, news articles, how-to videos, and more, to highlight current issues about information privacy and solutions for those seeking to enhance their knowledge.
“Think of it as a cross between a TED talk and a master class,” said Wertalik.
Each webisode will feature Bélanger and Wertalik discussing different information privacy topics, including steps individuals can do to protect their information on different platforms – web, smartphones, and others.
“For example, most people don’t know, or understand, how to privately browse online,” said Bélanger. “It's relatively easy, but people just don't know. That’s why we are going to include how-to videos on our website.”
Wertalik said the initiative aims to raise awareness, interest, desire, and action about information privacy.
“Voices of Privacy is designed for anyone to learn, understand, participate, or share their online experiences,” she said. “It has been created to educate the public, ensuring they are taking steps to make sure their information is kept private.”
Voices of Privacy, episode 1
The seed for Voices of Privacy was planted in fall 2021 when Bélanger and Wertalik initially discussed the idea given their common interests and their respective work on privacy, the digital world, and online tracking.
“We determined that there was nothing within the marketplace that was like what we could offer, speaking to the subject matter from our unique perspectives,” said Wertalik.
What the two can offer is subject matter expertise.
Bélanger has spent more than two decades studying issues surrounding information privacy. Ranked in the top 1 percent of information systems researchers in the world, according to a 2021 Stanford University analysis of citation data, Bélanger has authored or co-authored more than 200 papers and book chapters.
Wertalik, who also serves as director of marketing strategy and analytics for Pamplin College of Business and has over 28 years of experience in the marketing industry, has spent over a decade researching and teaching about the importance of information privacy. Her concentrations lie not only in digital marketing, but also virtual identities, the paradox of data, access, and protection, as well as different generational cohort strategies to understand tracking.
According to Wertalik, anything and everything surrounding privacy and security will be discussed.
“We want to tackle as many topics as possible,” she said. “For example, we need to explore online tracking that starts with babies to senior citizen scams and everything in between.
Both hosts agree that privacy and security literacy is something that is desperately needed, and they hope to provide that to listeners through Voices of Privacy.
“Our job, as educators, is to help make a difference,” said Bélanger. “This is our opportunity to do so.”
Voices of Privacy can be found at voicesofprivacy.com and accessed on YouTube and wherever you listen to podcasts, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts. New webisodes will be released every Wednesday, beginning with the premiere that aired on Feb. 1.