Is online privacy dead?
There are many reasons why you should be concerned about online privacy. Stalking on the internet can lead to unwanted offline encounters, blackmail, fraud, cyber-bullying, and personal details, which you’d rather not have the world know about, falling into the wrong hands.
Many Facebook users recently kicked up a fuss when the online social media site revised its Terms of Service Agreement without notifying its users of the changes. The company basically claimed to own the data posted on the site, including pictures uploaded, and reserved the right to terminate accounts if they were not kept up to date. The uproar over the changes was so big that Facebook retracted them and took steps to ensure stricter online privacy guarantees. Many users, however, remain unsatisfied with the company’s efforts, while others have closed their accounts.
The Facebook case is representative of the general concerns users should have regarding online privacy. When one considers the sheer size and influence of a social media behemoth such as Facebook, one realises the online privacy issue involving the site is a global one, which spans across many societies. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populated in the world, ahead of the United States. Entire swathes of the world’s population are enrolled on the site and are also users and members of Google, YouTube and Twitter. All these services are growing at a remarkable rate – Facebook adds an estimated 21 million new users each month, and Twitter recently went from 1 to 2 billion tweets a month.
So, what guarantees does a user of the internet have that search engines, email accounts, online banking and social networks will secure personal information and not sell or supply the data to third parties? Very few, really. The information amassed by sites such as Facebook are a real gold mine for advertisers. Sharing that information may be inevitable, and even if it isn’t, how well do companies such as Google and Facebook prevent data leaks? Even smaller businesses are utilizing shared storage networks, but how many are using an effective cloud computing security system?
The more you learn about how governments and corporations collect data, the more you realise that privacy no longer exists. Details about our spending habits are held in company databases and often sold to third parties. GPS systems in cars and handheld devices mean that you may be located by anyone with the right know-how and tools. In other words, details of where we go and everything we buy are in databases and can be controlled by whoever stores the information.
So, maybe the issue of online privacy is a moot one. Younger generations are growing up less and less concerned about living open lives on the net. That’s probably more than a little worrying for the generations born before the internet, email, fax machines, the barcode printer and digital radio. People who still remember barcode labels as being a novelty may just have to get used to living in a very open world, where personal details and information are stored by companies and governments without that person’s knowledge. What other option is there?