Bruce Schneier, a technologist and leading author on security issues was quoted saying ”What the system defines as normal is what a child is quickly going to think is normal, and he’ll build his life around it”.
There is a huge chunk of internet users who show outrage on the manner in which companies save user information to create a customized, central, one-stop social product for everyone. These companies don’t steal information. They are smart, in the context of privacy, at making users agree to sharing information with the companies. The user agrees to the privacy policies and willingly shares information with companies such as social networking sites. Most of us don’t have a problem sharing information; and I agree, we shouldn’t have a problem with that. However, we should be aware of the extents to which our personal information is being used, distributed or even shared without our knowledge. The outrage over privacy doesn’t only include social networking sites. It includes a horde of different services right from file-sharing websites, banking-related websites, and even your local broadband service provider.
Facebook got it all figured out in social networking but, it almost went disastrously wrong before the Lane vs Facebook lawsuit. In 2009, the FTC warned Facebook to change its privacy practices when the FTC noted that Facebook was publicly posting posts which were meant to be ‘friends only’. Facebook was also charged with sharing user information with advertisers without notifying individual users; without the user’s consent that is. Since then, Facebook has hired a team of privacy officers. They’ve even submitted to ‘privacy audits’ for the next 20 years. They reformed their privacy policies and today we all seem so much more comfortable to share on Facebook. But, just two days ago, the FTC was urged to probe whether Facebook is violating privacy settlement. Plus, the 19 year-old Zuckerberg was smart enough to IM his way through users’ privacy concerns; in his long-forgotten chat, Zuckerberg calls users of Facebook ‘dumb fucks’.
Google, on the other hand, started with a ‘Do no Evil‘ motto. Then there were a few setbacks with the now defunct Google Wave and Google Buzz. There was some major competition to Google from Facebook. Then came Google Plus and the coherence to the Google account linked products. It was then that Google decided to refresh their privacy policies across all products; a unified policy for all products linked to a Google account. We also remember when Google was accused of collecting user information viz. emails, passwords, etc. while the Google Street View team was cruising the streets of the world. Google was also accused of overriding cookie settings in Safari for the purposes of ads tracking.
Just take a look at the number of times FTC is found accusing Google and Facebook with privacy charges.
Most applications don’t use user provided data for unethical purposes. Think of the way Google has changed over the years. Do you think that there exists anything called a ‘standard’ Google search engine? No. The Google algorithm has been updated and refined over the years to cater to people individually. When I search for Greece, the Google first page lists out articles and news related to holiday destinations in that country (just the first page). When my girlfriend searches for Africa, she is provided updates about the economic position of the Euro-zone, specifically articles and news related to Greece; she being the well-read between the two of us. At first, such customizable search results seem like a good feature on search engines. But, beyond the ‘WTF line’, they seem creepy. Google searches which are performed without a user login should return neutral, unadulterated results. But, I don’t think that is the case. Not with me at least.
“In Europe, privacy is enshrined as a civil right, based on the experience that happened in Europe with Hitler and with communism, and you have embedded important civil safeguards around privacy that places the system in balance between the citizen and the corporate sphere and the government,”
“In the US, while privacy is a form of a right, it is in fact the free market which determines most of the policies when it comes to the internet.”
Internet privacy is a problem that it ubiquitously deep rooted, whereas its awareness and negative implications are equally unknown to the common user. Heck, I don’t mind sharing information with my friends or even allowing applications to store my personal information. But, as long as this activity takes place in the realms of my consent and for my benefit, I have no objection. After all, I have allowed the application to share and/or store my information. However, if sharing or selling my personal information is being undertaken without my consent, then I do have a problem. And in this age of mobile computing, location-based applications and turn-by-turn recommendations, so should you!