A lot of us are exposed to the internet every day. It’s as close as our pockets, and as inconspicuous as a traffic camera. Although not many of us are aware that with all of the convenience that comes with such an amazing technology, there are things that we unwilling and unwittingly sacrifice. I’d like to explore how the internet affects our privacy. I want to talk about four different and equally important facets of how the internet has changed our privacy, and our expectation of what is private. The internet, and its inherent public nature has helped the hard work, and thoughts of people flourish beyond levels ever thought possible, but at what cost? I’d like to discuss how the internet and our privacy is affected by a generational gap that hasn’t quite caught up with technology. More so, maybe the issue of privacy is more the availability of information on the internet, is it because so much information is available so fast that we conceive it as a privacy violation? How do our children deal with their privacy online? Is it something that we should start worrying more about? Finally, I’ll look at the argument that some make that our privacy is protected by legislation, and that we’re all over dramatizing the whole thing. The internet can help you find a cab, or a restaurant. But the internet can also tell anyone how to find you, and what you did last summer (insert scary movie music here).
One opinion about the internet and privacy that one time Sun Microsystems chief executive Scott McNealy tried to convey during an interview with Stephen Manes in 1999, is that our privacy is already gone, we can’t fix that. He suggest the best thing we could do is to simply “get over it.” One could argue that the “google” generation is stuck between what privacy was, and what privacy will become. Maybe the problem isn’t a problem and it’s just an in-between time and we haven’t adjusted to what is coming quite yet.
Long fought battles have been waged in the war on technology. Companies have tried time and time again to resist a computer, or upgrading old technology in the interest of privacy. In today’s world, it sounds absurd that someone could run a company without a computer, or with a computer more than say 5 years old. The truth is that many people still do. Granted, in a generation most of those people will be gone, along with their outdated ways, and we will see almost all business using the internet as a means to do business. In a modern world, computers will, and have become like cars. They are disposable, and everyone gets a new one every few years.
If we’re always getting a new one, wouldn’t there be a neat way to use the internet to save all my stuff? If we’ve got to use a computer at the office, can we figure out a way to be able to show off our pictures that are on the computer at home to our colleagues? Do we have to have the internet to do it? What else do you do with a computer besides the internet? I often find myself using very little of my computer itself except the web browser. In modern society, it is perfectly fine to hop on any computer you’d like, anywhere in the world and work on anything that you’d like. We all live in the cloud. We all depend on the availability of our documents, music, and pictures to be available anywhere we have internet connectivity. Scott McNealy raised the very valid point that, our privacy is already gone, learn to live with it, and don’t fight the system. The more exposure generations have to the internet, the more I think that Scott’s philosophy might be adopted.
A simple 20 page book by David Jakubiak sums it up best saying that the internet is like a window looking out to the whole world, and anyone can look in your window as if they were your neighbor (4). Unless you’re a fugitive or a conspiracy theorist, I would think that this is what most Americans have come to grips with. The majority of us have the consensus that if someone wanted bad enough to pry into our cyber lives, that a password won’t stop them. I think there is a shroud of cloudiness that we all bounce in and out of when it comes to what is private in our cyber lives. Of course we just don’t want anyone looking into what we’ve got going on, but we all understand that someone might just do that someday. In a strange way, it’s somewhat acceptable. Fair enough, that for those of us that fit this category have developed an “internet etiquette” and wouldn’t dream of sending a slandering email, or tweet a compromising picture of ourselves. And furthermore we don’t have five-thousand hoodlum Facebook friends that tag us in pictures of god knows what.
The fact is, our lives are a click away, that one can simply Google a name and in just a split second have more information about that person than one would generally know in a six-month time span of being with them in a 9 to 5 type work environment. Levmore and Nussbaum agree, and give the example that in a village, one would know who to talk to about another person’s character. That village elders would be more revered and credible of a source when vouching for someone. If one tries to escape their past, and simply moves to another village, their integrity would be scrutinized for simply being the newcomer. In today’s metropolitan world anyone has the ability to move from city to city unnoticed (2). Asking google about someone’s legitimacy is like asking the town drunk, who was also that person’s ex-spouse: This leads me to my next viewpoint.
I have a book, “Naked In Cyberspace” that will teach you how to dig up any information on anyone using the power of the internet. It raises the question to me and others. Is the internet and its speed of information what makes it insecure? Is it an invasion of our privacy because of the availability of information more so than the information we are sharing? Employers often google someone before hiring them, does this information sharing and the readiness of it cause the problem? Does simply one slur on a website about someone exclude them from a potential employer’s candidate list? How about one picture on Facebook that doesn’t coincide with a HR managers beliefs?
According to Jeffery Pommerantz in his article in that there has been a dramatic push for 100% of scholarly information to be available online via search engines such as Google Scholar, and more than half of internet users in 2006 were using search engines (53), by today’s standards approximately 90 percent or more users are frequent to search engines according an online article from Pew Research. This sheds light on the fact that we are moving to an instant gratification type of internet, where just about anything about anyone, or any topic is available for the browsing.
In times past there was no such thing as a credit score, or a search engine that keeps everything we’ve ever searched for, or our personal correspondence for that matter. The fact that almost every aspect of your life could be figured out if we have a properly used Facebook account screams to me that there is a problem. I also side with the fact that the problem isn’t what exactly that we share. I think the problem is that what would take a month or more to discover about someone could be uncovered tenfold online in a matter of minutes. How would one even go about researching someone’s immediate past without the power of the internet? I find it very telling that Carol Lane, in 2002 talked about how the old ideas of privacy will be gone in the coming years. She talked about how we will no longer be able to control information, or limit access to it. (44). This has become a reality, Hackers have cracked everything from our states healthcare system computers, to wall-street. Nothing online is safe, everything that you put online, even just once is somewhere else, and never completely gone. This limits our ability to un-do what we do to ourselves online. As well as what others do with our online pseudo-selves.
Children’s’ privacy is another great topic, I think that all the points of view agree we should protect it. But at what limits? Should parents be able to circumvent measures that have been implemented by big companies? How should we teach our kids to grow up with technology that is now, and will be in the future readily available? Is age 13 old enough to know how to use Facebook appropriately? Should parents be responsible, should companies, both? How do we prevent a child from saying he or she is 13 or older when signing up for an account on a social media website?
I found it very disturbing that according to an article by Wesley Tagtmeyer of the FBI the percentages of kids who will become anyone’s “friend” on social networking sites is incredibly high. He concludes that in his experience 70% of children will accept friend requests whether or not they know the person who sent the request. This to me means that roughly3 of 4 roughly don’t understand the vulnerability and inherent danger of the internet we use today. Although there has been several laws put into place to prevent attacks, and data collection of children, how our younger generation uses the internet has some serious flaws. In 2010 the Journal of Adolescent Health uncovered that 82% of sexual predators’ online use social networking sites to discover their victims likes and dislikes. This to a young mind would be the ticket in when trying to build trust between predator and victim.
Some say privacy is being protected, through legislation and a few higher profile cases that are on the forefront of what needs to be done to protect, and re-define our privacy. In recent times many larger companies have won, and lost big due to advancements and underachievement in private information and its security. The Communications decency act article 47 section 230 says that the owner of an interactive computer is not responsible for content generated by others. This had a great deal to do with our privacy and the protection of the adult content industry back in 1996, and is antiquated by today’s standards. It does indeed protect the privacy of some, but at what cost? Owners of websites have no legal obligation to protect users from what other users post. In 2007 a website juicycampus.com was alive and well. The website mission and claim to fame was that you could post pictures, stories, videos, and anything you’d like to say about a person, and identify that person, all while remaining anonymous. The website thrived, and couldn’t be held responsible for the havoc it imposed on many people’s lives because of the Communications Decency Act that protected it.
On the contrary to being a horrible way to slander someone, craigslist.org is another site that is protected by the same bill, and flourishes. Without that same bill one might have been, and still be too nervous to create an online classified website that allows users to post, buy, sell, and talk about whatever they’d like. Craigslist is a household name in 2013, and without the measures included in the Communications Decency Act could have been easily taken down by a few lawsuits from upset users. Great moderation by the user community is what keeps this and other similar websites in check instead of needing to be governed by a regulatory agency. Think about Ron Jeremy, in 2005 he did an interview that made it to Legs McNeil & Jennifer Osborne’s book “The Other Hollywood”.
Ron Jeremy: Now, now where does this Brett Michaels and Pam Anderson tape come from all of a sudden (572)?
Someone had gotten ahold of a copy of this now infamous video, either legally or illegally and redistributed it across the internet under the protection of section 230. This instance, all of the trouble with copyright infringement regarding music, videos, and art all is protected by this same act that was intended to protect the creators of another form of art, a website. Whilst leaving many others vulnerable, the act did indeed protect owners of “interactive computers”.
In conclusion I think that internet privacy is tough. I feel that we are stuck in a generation that has not quite figured it out. I feel (as others) that privacy should be implicit. If you send an email to someone and someone only, it’s private between you and that person. If it’s on your computer, it’s private to you. If you post something public on Facebook, its fair game. There are grey areas, and I feel that law enforcement should have some powers to use that data. I think currently it’s misused, and is a very current topic high on the civil liberties union’s agenda.
One thing is certain, the internet will continue to push the boundaries of what is acceptable for us as a society. We will constantly face new challenges especially regarding our privacy. I think that my generation, and my children’s generation are greatly more equipped to face the challenges, and concerns that privacy in the information technology age generates. Ultimately, it’s just a matter of time before all expectation of privacy is eliminated, and the whole idea of privacy changes. More technology, more laws, and more “bad apples” will be the demise of our privacy as we know it today. Get ready, delete your Facebook account, and continue shredding your email. It’s only going to get worse.
Jakubiak, David J. A Smart kid’s guide to internet privacy. 1st. New York, NY: PowerKids
Press, 2010. Print.
Levmore, Saul X., and Martha Craven Nussbaum. The Offensive Internet, Privacy,
Speech, And Reputation. Harvard Univ Pr, 2011. Print.
Lane, Carole A. Naked in cyberspace : how to find personal information online. Medford,
N.J: CyberAge Books, 2002. Print.
Pomerantz, Jeffery. “Google scholar and the 100% availability of information” Information
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Purcell, Kristen. Brenner, Kristen. Rainie, Lee “Search engine use 2012.” Pew Internet. n.p.
- Web. 17 Apr 2013.
“Child Predators.” fbi.gov. n.p. 17 May 2011. Web. Apr 18,2013.
“Predator Statistics”. Journal of Adolescent Health. 47. 2010. Web. 21 Apr 2013.
47 USC § 230. 1996. Web. 22 Apr 2013.
McNeil, Legs and Jennifer Osborne. The Other Hollywood. New York, NY: Regan Books.