What happens to privacy in the age of facebook?
Privacy in the age of Facebook
What happens to privacy in the age of Facebook?
In order to answer the question “what happens to privacy in the age of Facebook,” we first have to understand what is meant by the “age of Facebook.” This means understanding the influences and ramifications of recent developments in online technology and applications and their impact on personal life and social functioning. As one book on this subject notes; “The Internet has grown considerably during the past decade, particularly with respect to its use as a tool for communication, entertainment, and marketplace exchange.” (Miyazaki, and Fernandez 27)
From one perspective there is the view that this increase in the freedom and sharing of information has been positive and has helped the growth of commerce as well as education, among others. For instance, industry and commerce have benefited by being able to share information in a much more effective and speedier way than was previously possible. It has also broken down the barriers between nations, cultures and countries and, by so doing, opened up new markets and opportunities.
The Internet has had a profound and far-reaching effect on society and on our daily and business lives. In particular, the modern development in Internet applications and technologies such as Facebook has had an exponential and increasing influence on our lives. In one sense the increase in networking and interactive online applications has meant that social interaction and the positive effects of this interaction have increased. We now have access to information and the online sharing of data and knowledge that was unthinkable even as decade ago. Communication has also become easier and more convenient and extends beyond social, cultural and national boundaries.
The growth of Internet technology has also influenced other sectors of society. The media and journalism have been reshaped and changed and this in turn has also altered our perceptions of society and world events. Another example of the way that “the age of Facebook” has changed our world is the fact that the political system has become more transparent due to the plethora of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace; which also means that the democratic process has been improved. The economic domain has been revolutionized by the advent of advanced Internet technologies and online shopping and commerce is a daily reality. One could also mention education as an area that has been improved by the Internet. This refers to increased access to information, information sharing and the improved accessibility to online courses.
As many critics have pointed out over the past decade, the Internet is therefore nothing short of a revolution in communication and interaction which has many positive aspects and outcomes in our lives. On the other hand, one must also take cognizance of the fact that new technologies also change and alter the way that we perceive ourselves and the world around us.
New technological artifacts often challenge existing social structures by introducing new rules for social relationships. Legal, ethical, cultural, and political infrastructures of society must adjust to the impositions of new technology. Regulatory agencies, legislators, legal institutions, and consumers must adapt to the prescriptions of new technology. Technological innovations also dislocate routine processes and create anxieties for people. Society is forced to redefine old rules or identify new rules for sustaining social relationships. (Ebo 1)
The social network phenomenon, of which Facebook is the prime example, is also known as Web 2.0. Web 2.0 is a term coined by O’Reilly Media in 2003. This term was popularized by a Web conference in 2004 and defined as, “a perceived second generation of web-based communities and hosted services — such as social-networking sites, wikis and folksonomies — which facilitate collaboration and sharing between users.” (Internet and Web: Popular Whitepapers) in essence this means that Web 2.0 is an online platform for interconnected and interdependent communication, which also means that there is a greater openness and sharing of information. An important factor that diminishes the positive aspects of Web 2.0 however is that it is this very openness and sharing that makes sites like Facebook vulnerable to various forms of privacy intrusion.
These changes instituted by online technologies have both positive as well as negative outcomes. On the one hand the Internet is a great boon to modern civilization and knowledge. The advent of social networking sites such as Facebook, Foursquare and many others, has opened up new area and tools of interaction and human reciprocity. Networking, weblogs and have created an environment where access to information is fast and easy. This in turn has assisted mangers and organizers by creating a better environment for decision making.
On the other hand the reality is that there are negative aspects to the implementation of internet technology. Among these negative aspects is the issue of privacy and especially of the invasion of privacy through technologies that result in intrusion and invasion of the right to privacy in our contemporary culture.
2. The Issue of Privacy
A debate that has emerged in tandem with the discussion of the positive aspects of the Internet is the issue of privacy. This is an important issue as it relates directly to the conflict between the freedom of information and the ethics of privacy. On the one hand the Internet is all about the sharing of information and access to various types of data. This is often referred to as the democratization of information and is linked to the original online ethos and ideal of open access to all.
The problem is that as online technology and applications have increased in complexity and effectiveness, this has raised other more negative issues. The availability of information and the access to different types of information has also been exponentially increased by the availability of cheaper and faster broadband connections. This in turn has raised questions about the possible infringement of personal rights and the right to privacy in particular. This refers to personal as well as corporate and business privacy. As a result many companies see the Internet not as a boon but as an actual security risk. With the advent of more open and user-friendly online applications, such as Facebook and Twitter, this issue has increased in seriousness. A number of experts state that that the debate on online privacy and the issue of freedom of information vs. privacy should take center stage in modern society.
This problematic contrast between free access to information and the limitations necessary to protect privacy is succinctly summarized in the following quotation.
Information, as we all know, is power. Both collecting and collating personal information are means of acquiring power, usually at the expense of the data subject. & #8230;One need look no further than the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to be reminded that protecting the acquisition and dissemination of information is an essential means of empowering citizens in a democracy. Conversely, at least since George Orwell’s 1984 & #8230;the image of the all-seeing eye, the Argus state, has been synonymous with the power to exercise repression. Today, the all-seeing eye need not necessarily belong to the government, as many in the private sector find it valuable to conduct various forms of surveillance or to “mine” data collected by others.
The above extract from Froomkin’s study on online privacy is quoted at length as it summarizes the concerns that surround the ostensibly positive growth and development of the Internet and social networking sites like Facebook. The concern is that what on the one hand is a positive means of interaction and data sharing can just as easily become the means of intrusion and even invasion into the private life of the individual and the private data of a company. Some suggest that this could also lead to forms of coercion and oppression that are contrary to the ideal of sharing and cooperation on which the concept of the Internet was built.
There are many recent examples of this central concern. One example is the monitoring of employees for efficiency and honesty by management. This can be interpreted as an intrusion of privacy, although the company involved in the monitoring may justify their actions as a means of improving productivity. There has also been concern about private information that is being used by companies and even fraudsters. This also has an impact on behavior in society. “Knowing you may be watched affects behavior. Modern social science confirms our intuition that people act differently when they know they are on Candid Camera — or Big Brother Cam.” (Froomkin 1461)
In essence the above views suggest that the advancement of communication technologies is a double-edged sword. The access to information provided by the Internet, while been seen as a positive advance, also raises questions relating to ethical behavior and the issue of privacy. This concern is related to the question of access by others to our private information and the access and usage of various types of information that is available online. As will be discussed, this has serious implications for security issues on both a personal, organizational and corporate level.
A central concern is that, as the number of users increase online so does the potential threat of invasion of privacy in many insidious forms. This can lead to serious ethical infringements of privacy, such as fraud and identity theft. As Miyazaki, and Fernandez ( 2001) emphasize;
This rapid growth (of the Internet) has been accompanied, however, by concerns regarding the collection and dissemination of consumer information by marketers who participate in online retailing. These concerns pertain to the privacy and security of accumulateaa with respect to these issues
(Miyazaki, and Fernandez 27)
3. Privacy and the Online Context
Data privacy is defined as follows: “Data privacy refers to the evolving relationship between technology and the legal right to, or public expectation of privacy in the collection and sharing of data about one’s self .” (Hamdam et al. 2059) Privacy concern refers to the “expectation of privacy,” whether this is legal or ethical that the individual or company requires when data is shared or collected. This can also refer to the issue of how the data is collected, who has access to it and whether the individual or group has legal ownership of that data.
Therefore, from the above it is clear that privacy is breached or intruded upon if information or data is collected or accessed in way that transgresses the privacy rights of the individual. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) What this means in terms of the Internet and contemporary communications is that the right to privacy refers to having the ability to control what information is revealed about oneself online and being able to determine who can access and make use of this information. It therefore follows that the online world of communication and open networking presents a particular threat to the privacy of the individual and the company, in that there are many ways of gaining access to private information without the consent of the individual or the company or organization.
Another side to this issue is the aforementioned reference to the possibility of the Internet being used by government and other authorities to gain access and to use private information for various unsanctioned purposes. There are a number of commentators who are of the opinion that the access to information in the digital age will allow for the surveillance of citizens by government and corporations — which will amount to a radical infringement of privacy.
4. Implications: Types of Privacy Threats
The invasion of privacy on the Internet can take as variety of forms, some more invasive and insidious than others. Identity theft is one of the most prevalent and alarming of these threats and has become common in the age of online networking and the unsecured sharing of information. Identity theft is usually defined as, “ the appropriation of someone else’s identity to commit fraud or theft” (Milne 388) or “ when someone acquires your personal information and uses it without your knowledge to apply for credit cards, make unauthorized purchases, gain access to your bank accounts or apply for credit and obtain loans in your name.” (Milne 388).
The pervasiveness of this type of intrusion can be seen in the fact that, “This 21st century fraud combines deception (aka social engineering), impersonation, and automation to steal authentication credentials such as passwords and account numbers from individuals over the Internet, and uses this information for ill gain” (Wetzel 46). Identity theft is one of the most common and serious breaches of privacy in the online world and a Federal Trade Commission survey has found that approximately 30 million people have fallen victim to some form of identity theft in the past seven years (Young 86). The costs associated with this form of theft and invasion of privacy are outlined in figure 1.
( source: http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/mime/open.pdf?Item=1775)
Figure 2. The most common types of identity theft.
( Source: http://www.ftc.gov/os/2000/07/images/idtheft6.gif)
This form of invasion of privacy not only impacts the individual who may find his integrity and credit rating adversely affected, but it also has a serious effect on commerce and business. (Bielski 37)
There are many other instances of the invasion of privacy using online and networking technologies that could be cited. A recent study refers to reports that approximately 1,500 employees of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service have been investigated or disciplined since 1989 for “using government computers to browse through tax returns of friends, relatives, neighbors, enemies, and celebrities.” (Brin 55)
As has already been briefly referred to, privacy can be compromised by employers who may monitor an employee’s online activity without the consent of the individual. One survey found that thirty — five percent of employers “conducted one or more types of close electronic surveillance on their workers.” (Brin 56)
Privacy is also compromised when our personal information is used for commercial and advertizing purposes. This may result in an individual being targeted on the basis of his or her personal information gleaned without their consent from their Facebook or other sites.
Simply clicking on a site on the World Wide Web may wind up creating a “biography” about you. After coming home from the hospital maternity ward, a new mother is besieged by baby magazines and advertisements for infant-care goods. The purchaser of a new home automatically receives coupons from hardware stores, interior designers, and contractors. (Brin 57)
A prime example of this concern is the privacy and security issues surrounding Facebook itself. As one report states, there is concern that privacy on Facebook and other social networking sites is not what it should be.
In the latest revelation in a seemingly never ending stream of privacy breaches by online companies, we now know that Facebook and MySpace have been sending consumers’ personal information to advertisers despite promises that they don’t share such data without consent. ( Simpson)
There have also been numerous warnings on the Web about Facebook’s default privacy settings which “ make most of your content viewable by everyone.” (Collins 42) Furthermore, in a study by Collins (2010 ) the author states that “Facebook offers conflicting privacy settings in two different areas. When this occurs, Facebook obeys the less restrictive setting” (Collins 42)
In another query about the security and privacy of using sited like Facebook, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) has filed a complaint stating that sites like Facebook do not adhere to of Canadian privacy law. The CIPPIC has termed Facebook as a “minefield of privacy invasion.” (Cheng) This emphasizes a very important aspect that is central to the issue of online privacy and its control. While there are rules and laws that protect privacy, they are not always adhered to online. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to control and monitor privacy law and privacy infringements online. This aspect will be dealt with in more detail in the following section.
5. Summation and Conclusion
What all the above studies show is that the freedom of information that is such as a dominant characteristic of the age of Facebook and social networking can have a serious and negative impact on privacy issues for society and the individual. This in turn has led to an increasing emphasis in security and the implementation of security measures online.
There are many other effects and outcome of the potential invasion of privacy in the age of Facebook. As Lacey and Cuganesan, (2004) state, from a personal and individual perspective, “Identity theft threatens the very essence of an individual’s sense of self and his or her capacity to participate in society” and for commerce the effects can exceed billions of dollars each year: (Lacey & Cuganesan 244). This problem is exacerbated by the fact that identity theft is becoming more common with the increase in social networking technologies, coupled with faster and more accessible internet connection. As Lacey and Cuganesan (2004) state, “In the United States identity theft is described as growing at a rate of 30% per year, with its losses estimated at reaching $8 billion by 2005” (Lacey & Cuganesan 244).
As discussed above, it is not sufficient to rely on laws and regulations that protect privacy, as the online and networked world is one that is often not amendable to direct control. Many experts assert that protecting one’s privacy is the responsibility of the user. This is especially the case with regard to consumer privacy which is considered by many to be “ largely the responsibility of individuals who are expected to guard their personal information and take steps to minimize the risk that it will be used in an unauthorized way.” (Nehf) the general consensus seems to be that while there are rules and laws in place to protect privacy, “In most aspects of daily life, individuals are expected to take steps to protect their own privacy interests.” (Nehf 351)
Ensuring that you are secure in terms of your networking activities and that your personal information is not abused is therefore largely an individual responsibility. There are a number of precautions and actions that are vital to maintain privacy. These include the following.
Firstly, stringent online security measures such as a firewall and a virus protection program, as well as malware programs, should be the first line of defense against privacy intrusion. Many experts state that while technological solutions to the problem of privacy are important, awareness of the potential threat is even more important. In other words, being cognizant, knowledgeable and aware of the threat is the most effective way of preventing problems. There are a number of practical steps that can be taken in this regard.
As a general rule, never e-mail personal or financial information.
Never respond to requests for personal information in e-mails. Banks, the IRS and legitimate businesses never ask for such information through e-mail. If you are tempted to respond, call the company instead.
If you initiate a transaction that calls for personal or financial information, confirm that the Web site is secure by checking for a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins https (the s stands for secure) instead of http.
Be aware that phishers are able to forge a security icon only when they initiate an e-mail, which is why you never should reveal information in response to a received e-mail.
However, it is also clear that the conflict between the ideal of freedom of information and the right to privacy has to have a more inclusive and comprehensive solution than just prevention. This refers ethical and possibly regulatory practiced that will determine and even define the way that we conduct ourselves on the Internet. As Nathaniel S. Borenstein states,
In order to limit the damage caused by Internet technology and to unlock its potential to enhance human society, we must begin to formulate the ethical and political principles that should ultimately define the role of the Internet in all human interactions.
Therefore, in the final analysis the issue of privacy intrusion is a problem that requires an new and more enlightened attitude toward the potential of sharing and communication that networking sites and the Internet offers.
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