Week Six – Digital Privacy

20 Mar

What is privacy? – The “control over knowledge about oneself” (Fried, 1968). But today, privacy is not just about keeping control over information regarding you, it’s much harder than this – as with the internet information can be sought about anyone, anywhere in the world.

Digital privacy is something that affects pretty much all of us, as most people these days use the internet to share information across the web in the form of emails, Facebook, Google searches, Blogs or even tweets. Therefore the word privacy means something totally different now, in comparison to before the realm of the digital age. As the word privacy can be defined as many different things, and it gets even more confusing when you put into the equation the web, this I feel is the main problem with privacy online – as the laws and regulation of online privacy can be stretched by companies as many people define what privacy in a different way.

Within the UK, there is legislation to try and protect internet users from their data being used. Such regulation sand rules that have been put in place are:

  • The Data Protection Act 1998.
  • Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003
  • Information Commissioners’ Office (2010)
  • Freedom of Information Act 2000


However although there seem to be many regulations in place to protect the British public from companies using their information to the benefit of corporations or thieves, this does not seem to be working as well as it could be. The risks that can occur are:

–          Identity theft

–          Online/physical stalking

–          Embarrassment

–          Blackmailing

–          Reputational damage

–          Phishing

Taking the example of identity theft, this is increasing vastly as more people use the internet in the form of Facebook or online payment methods. Especially with the use of Facebook, as this is a free online commodity, they have 600m users, however apart from ad sales they do not have much revenue, and therefore data about their consumers is the most valuable asset they own. The same situation lies with Google – as Google provides many free online commodities in the form of: Gmail, YouTube, Google maps etc., they too have to create revenue from their assets, as ad sales are not enough in its own capacity. In 2007 Google was reported to have breached privacy regulations, when they were taking photos for the Google street view they were accused of obtaining information from unsecure networks in local areas. I think that this kind of scandal for such a huge company like Google, could damage their reputation greatly, as all internet users, whatever age you are, is concerned about the privacy of your own information. I believe that although this instantaneously put fear in the minds of the consumers, it was easy to restore confidence in the public, as there is not such a trusted search engine or online company as Google – so people would naturally still use their service as others would not be to the same standard.

Another aspect of online browsing I believe is over stepping the mark for the public’s privacy is the advertising industry. When typing an email in Gmail to a friend the other day, I was talking about a holiday and how I wanted to go somewhere sunny, as the English weather was so dreadful! – Almost instantaneously the banner on the right-hand side of the page changed to an advert for Thompson’s Holidays. This must have meant that Google was able to track the words and meanings of what I was typing, and target consumers individually in an attempt to directly target people who would hopefully pay attention to the advert – this is called: behavioural targeting. Instead of the desired response of me being interested in the content of the advert, I was shocked at how the advert was being able to target me as a user. I do not think it is morally right for Google to be able to sell such information or data to advertisers to make a promise that they will be able to target consumers through tracking the typing within an email account. As Google owns Gmail, and you as a user are using it as a function, they are able to get around the privacy regulations, however in this ever digital conscious society – I would presume that Google will need to alter their data using habits in a stance to keep the trust of their users.



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