Katherine David - Study

Online Privacy- A Thing of the Past

When considering what types of technology have had the biggest impact on the 21st century a number of tools come to my mind. There’s the ipod that allows you to play your favorite music whenever and wherever. Or how about all of the latest and greatest makes of laptops? And you can’t leave out the GPS that helps people like me never have to face the feeling of being lost again. This list could go on as our generation seems to invent a new tool that will alleviate another human problem almost each and every day. I’d have to argue though that there is one form of technology that is superior to every other form. Yes, I mean that it is the most helpful, the most efficient and the most convenient when compared to everything else. Ladies and gentlemen- I present the Internet. On the internet, you can create your own music stations, access it on any type of lap top that you wish, and googlemap almost any location that you need to find. In fact, you can take the internet with you everywhere now that it’s accessible on our phones; with the internet, nothing is impossible.

The internet helps you do everything and in retrospect, you help the internet do everything. How so you might ask? Thanks to our own giving out of personal information to the most public place on earth, we are indirectly saving these online companies a lot of work. While I’ll address this idea later, it’s important to now ask whether or not people still value their own privacy. Yes, this may seem like an obvious “yes” but the real answer lies within what actually happens on the internet and how naïve and frankly, how clueless people really are.
Webster’s dictionary defines privacy as, “ the quality or state of being apart from company or observation, or the freedom from unauthorized intrusion.” Throughout this paper, we’ll look at a number of common practices, beliefs, and real life stories that focus on the idea of privacy. For example, we’ll venture to find out what people with social networking sights think about privacy. We’ll see how companies benefit from our inability to remain somewhat private and how we are providing them with more information than we know. Lastly, we’ll look at real life stories in which an individuals’ lack of confidentiality proved to harm them in the long run. My hope is that readers’ will learn from this article and understand that while the internet may seem all high and mighty among other devices, it might also be the on device that brings down those high and mighty users to a taste of reality very quickly.

To start off the paper, I’d like for readers to recall the last time they were on the internet. Or for those of you who are constantly connected, a common theme among many adults today, ask yourself when the last time was that you were not connected to the internet in some way shape or form. According to the image below, in 2008 it was calculated that nearly 80% of adults in the United States are internet users (Prussakov). Now that you’ve got that specific time when you were last online in your head, ask yourself whether or not you were merely getting online to do what you needed to do or whether you committed the practice formerly known as “stalking.” Webster’s dictionary defines “to stalk” as the verb “to pursue obsessively and to the point of harassment or to go through in search of prey or quarry.” While some might argue this as somewhat of an extreme definition, I might argue that you yourself have probably done this on the internet in your recent past.[http://blog.iqsdirectory.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Change-in-Reported-Internet-Use.jpg]

For this paper, I asked a few questions to a number of friends about stalking, specifically in regards to the social networking device called Facebook. The most common response to the question, “Would you call yourself a Facebook stalker?” was “Yes, most definitely.” A common time that Facebook stalking was popular among people who were surveyed was when they had homework to do or something that procrastination could help put off. The most eye-opening thing about this survey was that people answered “yes” to this question without hesitation; most didn’t even try to defend themselves against this accusation that they might be one of the many Facebook stalkers I know. Only one friend felt that stalker was somewhat of a harsh word because she was “merely looking at information that these people put on the internet with their own knowledge.”

I’ve always thought the concept of anonymity was an interesting factor when it came to online privacy. When I asked friends if they would feel uncomfortable if there was a way for people to see what they were looking up on the internet and whether or not they were looking at other people’s pages on the Internet, the overwhelming majority of people’s responses were, “Yes.” One friend answered saying, “ I feel like a lot of Facebook stalking would be cut down and random site surfing would be kept at a minimum.” Author Brian Christian discusses the issue of anonymity in his Book, “The Most Human Human.” Websites like Chatroulette and Omegle were primarily appealing because of the anonymity they provided for their users; the harm in this was that people have no problem being inappropriate because there is no longer a way for them to be identified. Accountability goes out the window and finding a “normal” person that is using the site for it’s original purpose is rare (Christian, 24).

Next I asked friends if they first thought privacy and the internet could coexist. Second, I asked if they utilized privacy settings or were at least aware of the need to be private on the internet. While most everyone said that “Yes, I use privacy settings,” a number of people added that they thought most people were “unaware of the privacy settings that existed on social networking sites like Facebook.” Also, a few friends added that they thought it “worrisome that some users on the Internet were unaware of privacy options and how important they are to use them.” These answers game me promise because it seemed clear that at least some people new that the possibility of being “stalked” on the internet was possible.

When asked if privacy and the internet could coexist, people also noted a number of their peers ignorance to how much information could be found out on the internet. One friend said, “It may seem like you have privacy but with the advance in technology (hacking, key-logging, etc.) it makes it much easier for your information to be accessed.” The author Brian Christians tells a story about this in his book mentioned above. In 2008 a college student named David Kernell “attempted to log in to vice-presidential candidates Darah Palin’s personal Yahoo! account.” He clicked the “I forgot my password link,” located her date of birth and zip code that he found online, and changed her password to ‘popcorn’ and ‘took a cold shower.’ He now faces up to 20 years in prison (Christian 16-17). While Sarah Palin did not put up her e-mail account’s password on the internet, what about those people who do put up their information online? Is this an invasion of privacy?

I ask this because there are a number of personal stories that I found during my problem oriented research that showcased stories in which I believe the person would have argued they realized the need for privacy “too late.” An example of this occurred when a teacher got fired because of a Facebook picture.[<http://cbsnews.com/stories/2011/02/06/sunday/main7323148.shtml>.]

A 24 year-old woman by the name of Ashley Payne was called into the principal’s office and asked, “Do you have a Facebook page?” After she answered “yes” he proceeded to ask “Do you have any pictures of yourself up there with alcohol?” The reason the principal was asking these questions to Ms. Payne was because he did in fact receive an e-mail from an anonymous parent regarding her Facebook page and a “concerning picture.” The picture she had posted, seen below, had her holding a wine glass and the caption beneath it had a curse word. After their discussion, Payne was given the option to either resign or be suspended by the school and she reluctantly resigned. She wanted to make known to the public that she was fighting for her job back, comparing this viewing of her Facebook to ‘someone coming into her home, opening up a shoebox of her photos, and showing one that included her and alcohol to the principal” (Moriarty). While some might agree with Payne that she was wronged by the school that fired her, some might argue that she did put this information up on the internet by choice.

But what about people whose pictures go online without their permission? This was another question I asked people during casual interviews; “How would you react if you knew that pictures of you were being posted online without your consent?” One friend answered, “ If it was a degrading image I would feel embarrassed, concerned, and violated- I’d wonder how that was allowed and more importantly, how I could get that image offline immediately.” Whether or not people like it, unfortunately, people can put up images without people’s consent.

An issue like this actually came up on Virginia Tech’s campus last year, one that upset many, including those who did not fall victim to the website “VT no pants.” While the website is no longer online due to a number of complaints from students who felt as though they were being violated, the Collegiate Times wrote an article in response to the controversial website and made it clear that this did not hold Hokie values. [http://www.collegiatetimes.com/stories/16142/humiliating-website-not-appropriate-for-hokies-]. The sole purpose of this website was to publicly humiliate girls who were wearing leggings (Knutson). The worst part about this website was the fact that these women were unaware that their pictures were being taken.

A website that is similarly degrading and humiliating to this one is called[http://www.peopleofwalmart.com/]. On this website, people who are in Walmart that appear to be wearing or doing something abnormal are photographed and put on this website. While the captions add humor and the people’s picture may provide you with somewhat of a chuckle, the whole idea of “no privacy rights” within a store like Walmart is somewhat disconcerting. Yes these people may stand out in the store but who has the right to publicly humiliate these individuals online? Is there ever a time that invading someone’s privacy is even acceptable?

That’s a question many people ask. Take for example students in a classroom in which their teachers monitor their online activity while they are supposed to be working.[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vza_bMuy42M. ]This one faculty member shows us how this “spying software” works and why it can be helpful for schools to use. The teacher demonstrates this feature and says that, “Kids know what is expected of them but they also want to do all their other things…they feel that as long as their doing their work there is nothing wrong with them chatting and looking at themselves in the mirror as long as they get done by the x amount of time that they have.” While teachers would argue that this device allows them to keep the classroom strictly an educational environment, some students might argue that it’s up to them to decide if they want to break the rules and surf the internet during class time.

Another example in which the Internet keeps you in the know about what you are doing is [http://www.fairfaxunderground.com/forum/]. Their homepage says this is “a project site designed to improve communication between residents of Fairfax County, VA.” While this may seem somewhat vague, there is a link on the homepage that allows you to see residents’ past arrests and tickets they’ve received. When I was younger it used to be the funny thing to do to friends- “Hey, did you happen to get a speeding ticket your junior year of high school?” While this would cause laughs among friends, there were certain instances in which this log of people’s offenses were helpful. For example, I knew a friend who was newly dating a guy that wasn’t well liked by her parents; he rubbed them the wrong way and after trouble soon began following her too, they looked his name up on Fairfax Underground. It turned out that he had a number of arrests over the past few years for theft, speeding, and drinking violations, all of which were red flags to her parents. Again, while a person in his position might have felt as though this was an unfair of way of going about looking into his past, the parents would argue the opposite. Again, this is another example in which the use of the Internet may help make alarming private details a helpful public tool. How could there ever be a problem with a site like this?

Michael Fertik, a Hardvard Law School grad, felt that there was a need to help slow the loss of privacy and created a website that helps do just that (Moriarty). Reputation.com is a website that “sets the record straight, establishes your own image, and removes private information.” They promise their customers that they will “put you in control of your own Google results.” During an interview with Ferik, a woman’s social security number, political party identification, and religion were all located online to prove how her seemingly private information appears on the Internet in no time. The interesting part that alarmed the interviewee was the fast that there was another person who lived down the road with the same name. Harmless right? Too bad this person had been convicted with serving alcohol to minors and was a convicted criminal. Fertik informed the woman that Reputation.com also allowed people to correct any misinformation about themselves- information that “people never even knew was there” (Moriarty). But why is this information even online- what’s the point of having a public record of nearly every action an individual makes online?

Most companies would have no problem answering this question. Data-mining. Dictionary.com defines this practice as “the process of collecting, searching through, and analyzing a large amount of data in a database, as to discover patterns or relationships.” CNN showcased an excerpt about an article in Time Magazine that asked, “Who is following you and what personal information do they find along the way and lastly, how do they use it?” A man by the name of Joel Stein talks about what this data-mining company was able to find out about him in a matter of minutes. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYiGT4EuE9w]. His social security was quickly located along with the ways in which this site finds out what ads to post on the sites you frequently visit. While this might seem alarming to some in regards to what might happen with your banking information or whether identity fraud could occur, Mr. Stein says these sites are primarily used for advertisement purposes.

But what about the sites that are not just for advertisement purposes? One CNN special showcased a special that showed a woman whose daughter’s picture was taken off her Flicker account and “used in a sexual suggestive Portuguese profile sexual networking device.” A stranger later was able to locate her home phone number and address, thus adding to fear she had for her daughter’s safety.[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpsTuY7gXik&feature=related] One man stated near the end of the special that “internet privacy is dead.” Now my question is, what can we do about these instances? How can we protect ourselves from instances like these and prove that internet privacy is in fact not dead?

As internet users, we need to beware of the steps we can take to prevent these invasions of privacy from happening to us. For example, we might try to only use websites that give us the option to protect our personal information; Google is one company that claims to do this. The CNN clip above says that privacy experts would “like to see standardized and simplified website privacy policies or even government restrictions on secondhand use on private information.” Whether the government does this or not is their choice, but we as individuals need to pay close watch to what information we’re letting out. Facebook has privacy settings- use them. If you’re applying to schools or jobs, edit your online image. Don’t give out your passwords to anyone- often things that ask for your passwords are merely scams. Be aware.

Corporations are also trying to help their users in response to their concerns; Data Privacy Day is one of those steps in the right direction. “Data Privacy Day is an international celebration of the dignity of the individual expressed through personal information” (Kirkpatrick). Their goal is to build relationships with their clients so that they might use the information they make available for harmless endeavors. Your job is to limit the information you give out and be cautious of who you reveal your identity to online. Be aware of who might be watching you and never reply to spammers. Ultimately, be smart when clicking the send button- you are ultimately making the choice to disclose information about yourself.

With this proactive way of protecting privacy, I believe Internet users can find a safe way to use the Internet; privacy and the Internet can coexist. There are positives to having public information online; companies may use your information and on certain sites other information can be found out to protect others. Social networking sites are not all harmful and in fact, they can be used in a safe way. The key is to take the necessary steps to protecting yourself. If we do these things, the Internet can remain both a superior and safe tool for all to use.

Works Cited

Christian, Brian. The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us about What It Means to Be Alive. New York: Doubleday, 2011. Print.

CNN Story about Online Privacy. CNN, 17 Nov. 2009. Web. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpsTuY7gXik&feature=related>.

Fairfax Underground. Phorum. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. <http://fairfaxundergound.com/forum/>.

Joel Stein Talks Data Mining and Privacy on CNN American Morning. CNN, 10 Mar. 2011. Web. <http://www.youtube.com.watch?v=rYiGT4E9w>.

Kirkpatrick, Michael. Privacy, Facebook and the Future of the Internet. Read Write Web, 28 Jan. 2010. Web. <http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/privacy-facebook-and-the-future-of-the-internet.php>.

Knutson, Stevie. "Website Not Appropriate for Hokies." Collegiate Times. Virginia Tech, 25 Oct. 2010. Web. <http://www.collegiatetimes.com/stories/16142/humilaiting-website-not-appropriate-for-hokies->.

Moriarty, Erin. "Did the Internet Kill Privacy? - CBS News." Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News - CBS News. CBS News, 6 Feb. 2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://cbsnews.com/stories/2011/02/06/sunday/main7323148.shtml>.

Online Reputation Management Leader : Reputation.com. Reputation.com Inc. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://Reputation.com>.
Prussakov, Geno. "Blogging To Continue Blooming. Trends & Statistics. « Affiliate Marketing Blog by Geno Prussakov." AM (Affiliate Marketing) Navigator - Education on Affiliate Marketing and Program Management. 2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://www.amnavigator.com/blog/2009/04/22/blogging-to-continue-blooming-trends-statistics/>.

"Southeast#8: I Only Have Eyes for You." Funny Pictures at WalMart. Three Ring Blogs, 2009. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://peopleofwalmart.com>.

Teachers Spying on Students through Laptop Webcams. Youtube, 18 Feb. 2010. Web. <www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vza-bMuy42M>.