Everyone’s worried about privacy online – and with good reason too. Anyone using the net is leaving a cybertrail that can be tracked, collected, collated, analysed, shared, sold and stolen. Do we need to worry about this? Probably, but there’s only so much we can do about it. Is privacy a defunct concept? Mark Zuckerberg, Google and Twitter might like to think so, but most internet users and governments don’t think so.
If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or one of the multitude of other social platforms then you’re putting plenty of personal information into the cybersphere. If you’re browsing through Google while being logged in, then you’re making your search queries and websurfing stats available for Google to collect and analyse depending on your settings.
If we join these sites, to a certain extent we’ve made our personal information public and we need to be mindful of this when putting our personal lives into the public domain. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t dilute the concept of privacy and as users it’s up to us not to give our privacy away too easily.
Every day there seems to be a new story about a privacy breach online. Some of the companies that store our information can’t be trusted, as several recent examples show. In Australia, Telstra ran into trouble when it was revealed that it was sending customers’ internet usage data overseas to be analysed as part of an internet filtering database.
Earlier LinkedIn suffered a security breech that potentially revealed up to 6.5 million user passwords in its database. It was also under fire over its iPhone app that could potentially send personal calendar entries to LinkedIn. Google has been fined in the US after it was accused of using cookies in the Apple Safari browser that could track the web movements of millions of users on Macs, iPhones and iPads.
Facebook is regularly finding itself in privacy battles. It won’t stop because its model relies on the value of personal information. It’s often caught fiddling with settings without telling people and the common theme is that we are sharing more of our information without realizing it. Just the fact that all settings are set to public by default for new users tells you everything about the way it would like us to interact online.
Twitter came under scrutiny when it was found to leave cookies that record users when they visit websites with a Twitter tweet or follow button, even if they’ve logged out of the platform. Recently, internet provider AAPT was hacked and customer information was leaked online. Last year the Sony PlayStation network was hacked and this exposed user details and credit card information.
These privacy breeches are the ones that we know about because they hit the headlines. There’s also the slowly wasting away of the definition of our privacy that’s harder to define and far more problematic for all of us on the internet.
The government is both our friend and foe when it comes to privacy. We turn to legislators to step in with the big stick of the law to drive back the invasion of advertisers, marketers and aggregators into our personal space online. But we also find ourselves having to push back against a nervous, prying government that wants to impinge on our online freedoms under pressure from crime fighting authorities, security departments and their own desire to regulate.
Some months ago, it was revealed that the government could be considering a data retention scheme ,suggested as one of many proposals for a national security review. It could potentially allow the government to collect phone and internet usage for every citizen and hold onto it for two years. This would be a mammoth invasion of privacy and create an irresistible honeypot of personal information that could be compromised. It’s designed to protect us, but just who’s watching the watcher?
How do we define privacy in the era of interconnectedness when social sharing online with devices that can record and retain our whereabouts, our conversations and every site via an IP address? The privacy argument will only intensify as more of our lives are transferred to the cloud and businesses fight to grab our attention online and battle to get our dollars online too.