Are We Ever Really Safe On The Internet?

Once you have entered your personal information onto a website, is that information really ever private again? The world wide web is such a large space and there are so many skilled hackers out there, how can we ever really be certain? Sure, some websites such as shopping sites or social networking sites provide their users with privacy policies, but those policies could potentially be violated.

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Facebook, for example, is currently the most popular social networking site with thousands of users on it at every second of every day across the entire world. This means thousands of people’s personal information is in their database, just waiting to be hacked or used for some other purpose than Facebook clarified in their privacy policies.

In 2010, Facebook faced several privacy issues with their software. According to the New York Times, “some [Facebook] applications had been improperly sharing the data with advertisers and Web tracking companies.” [1] Evidently, this is a violation of users’ privacy.

Similarly, this past August, Facebook was accused of “’illegally compiling a vast photo database of users without their consent’” by German data protection officials. [2] The officials are referring to Facebook’s new facial recognition software, which is intended to ease the task of “tagging” friends in photos. Again, Facebook faces a violation of users’ privacy.

A “morally transparent” situation is exemplified in these Facebook privacy breaches “because the practice is known and it is roughly understood what moral values are at stake in relation to it” (Brey pg. 51). [3] Facebook’s violations of privacy are evidently understood by its users that they are morally unethical. So, if we know that “morally transparent” situations exist, why do we continue to provide our personal information on the internet? 

The internet is not something concrete and 100% safe like the bank; there are security breaches, viruses, and cookies that invade people’s privacy every day. Such privacy invasions can happen in spam email or on the largest social networking site in the world. Yet, everyday, we sign up for a new online dating site or magazine subscription. Everyday we take the risk that our information will remain safe, but we really do not know if it will. So, we really cannot ever be sure our information is safe on the internet, can we?

[1] New York Times

[2] artstechnica.com

Brey, P. (2009).  ‘Values in Technology and Disclosive Computer Ethics,’ The Cambridge Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics, Ed. L. Floridi, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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4 Responses to Are We Ever Really Safe On The Internet?

  1. clairejwiggins says:

    I would have to agree, the internet is a powerful tool, and power always has the potential to be “misused”. But I would have to argue that putting your information on the internet, like on social networks for example, is not forced upon anyone. It is a privilege, not a right, You can choose what information you want to put on your profile. As seen by some of the other posts on this blog, facebook clearly collects data about our behaviors, and if someone uses facebook, they should be aware that this data collection does occur; people should be informed users. Certainly there are some actions that can be taken in order to protect us, but I think that there will always be some kind of risk involved with privacy and the internet.

  2. dkoleanb says:

    Claire,
    I understand the point you’re making–sure, everyone has the choice to choose what they post or don’t post; however, I don’t believe the responsibility of educating oneself on changes in privacy policy or understanding how your information may potentially be used in the future should be incumbent upon all Internet users. In an ideal world, everyone would understand the potential that your data to be shared or even sold, but I don’t believe this will ever happen. I believe it’s the responsibility of the website to be as transparent as possible (this means default settings on Facebook shouldn’t allow all user information to be sent to apps or for Facebook to blatantly misuse your information). On the other hand, Internet users definitely do have responsibility for their own actions, and I would argue that we need to take a more proactive approach in providing an adequate education in how to use the Internet (ideally starting in K-12 schooling).

  3. kmcmeek says:

    I think this is a great issue to bring up. I understand both points of view from the comments above but I think it is a personal choice to sign up for social media sites. If an individual is paranoid about protecting their personal information then they should not share it on the world wide web. No one is forcing people to sign up for social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This is not to say that user privacy should be ignored or taken lightly, but people should understand their information and postings are never entirely “private” (regardless of their privacy settings).

  4. hustonsa says:

    I think that when putting information online, one should always be wary as to if the information is actually secure. When putting information onto profiles that many people have access to, I am always skeptical as to who can really see this information. Especially since there are programs out there that allow schools and employers to see information that is marked as private. I do tend to trust other databases such as my mail, since I trust that, baring a hacking or my own stupidity (staying logged in on public computers etc.) my information is safe.

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