Privacy Issues in the Internet Era

Most humans value their privacy. That is, they value access or control of information about themselves. They want to be the ones who decide who has access or control of information about themselves. They also want to be the ones who decide on what personal information to be given to whom. Privacy debate is about the access, control and use of information about persons without their knowledge or permission. It is also about the unauthorized use of these information for malicious or fraudulent ends. The privacy debate traces its origin to the early era of the printing of newspapers and photography when people asserted their rights to be left alone, and to be protected from the violation of their personality occasioned by the activities of journalists of that time (Privacy and Information technology, 2014).

Today, Internet raises a similar concern about privacy. This concern about privacy are varied and many (Paine, Reips, Stieger, Joinson, & Buchanan, 2007). This is because we are in the era of big data (Tene & Polonetsky, 2012). More and more people spend a lot of time online, and also have a lot of personal information in the Internet. Thus many Internet users are concerned about the unauthorized access, storage and use of their personal information. There is the concern about the control of this data by a few persons and their possible manipulation by unknown persons whose ethics may be questionable (Leonhard, 2014). There are moral reasons for a quest to ensure that one’s data is protected (Privacy and Information technology, 2014). They include “Prevention of Harm” (Privacy and Information technology, 2014): Unauthorized access to an individual’s data, location, passwords, personal characteristics and preferences can be used to harm the person. “Informational Injustice and discrimination” (Privacy and Information technology, 2014): Someone’s preferences or health records can be used, if it is accessed by unauthorized persons, to discriminate against such person. “Encroachment on moral autonomy” (Privacy and Information technology, 2014): Outside forces can manipulate the data they have on someone to influence the choices these individuals make (Leonhard, 2014). “Informational Inequality” (Privacy and Information technology, 2014): Since data has become a commodity, there is need for people whose data are used to be fairly rewarded for the use of their data, but they are not usually consulted or involved in this negotiation. Tene and Polonetsky (2012) summarizes some of these concerns beautifully when they explained that the “tasks of ensuring data security and protecting privacy become harder as information is multiplied and shared ever more widely around the world. Information regarding individuals’ health, location, electricity use, and online activity is exposed to scrutiny, raising concerns about profiling, discrimination, exclusion, and loss of control”.

In spite of the concern about unauthorized access and use of personal information online, others have argued that some unauthorized access and use of personal information may be reasonable and beneficial to the common good (Raicu, 2013; Tene & Plonetsky, 2012; Dinev, Hart, & Mullen, 2008). They explain that it is essential for security, prevention of more serious calamities, and improvement of services/products (like prevention of terrorism and the spread of contagious diseases or epidemic or improvement of drugs).

From the foregoing, it is obvious that there are great concerns about the use of private information without authorization. It is important that policies are set in place to ensure that these personal data are protected and secured. It is also critical that information that can be easily traced to individuals (and that may cause them harm when it is) should not be used without their explicit permission. Furthermore, given the growing importance and significance of data and big data, professionals with skills to access, store or control personal data should be held in higher standard of ethics (just as, for instance, doctors are expected to keep certain ethical standards). In the near future, carelessness with personal data could mean life or death.

However, for the sake of the common good, it is reasonable that some unauthorized access to individual data can be made use of (as long as this access will not be harmful or identified with the individual). Moreover, there should be stringent policies guarding such use. Furthermore, there should be possibility of redress for individuals if there is a negative impact on them of the use of their personal information.

References 

Dinev, T., Hart, P., & Mullen, M. R. (2008). Internet privacy concerns and beliefs about government surveillance–An empirical investigation. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 17(3), 214-233.

Leonhard, G. (2014, December 6). Digital ethics and the future of humans in a connected world. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZn0IfOb61U&feature=youtu.be

Paine, C., Reips, U. D., Stieger, S., Joinson, A., & Buchanan, T. (2007). Internet users’ perceptions of ‘privacy concerns’ and ‘privacy actions’. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 65(6), 526-536.

 Privacy and Information technology. (2014, November 20). Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/it-privacy/

 Raicu, I. (2013, February 4). The ethics of online privacy protection. Retrieved from https://www.scu.edu/ethics/privacy/the-ethics-of-online-privacy-protection/

 Tene, O., & Polonetsky, J. (2012, February 2). Privacy in the age of Big Data: A time for big decisions. Retrieved from https://www.stanfordlawreview.org/online/privacy-paradox-privacy-and-big-data/

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8 thoughts on “Privacy Issues in the Internet Era

  1. I enjoyed your post! You mentioned that employees who work with sensitive data should have additional training to understand the policies and ethics surrounding that data. You mentioned medical professionals, and that training with regards to HIPPA is well documented. However, in other industries such training is not carried out as well. Can you give some examples of other types of jobs that need this training – and if you believe they are receiving enough? I know the world of higher education (at least my school) needs to do a better job of explaining FERPA, and how we need to store and process student information. Can you think of others? What could be the ramifications of not being a good “steward” of sensitive data?

    Thanks,
    Andrea

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    • In my current job and in my previous job as a school administrator, I worked with the IT Directors of our organization. In both cases, these directors manage our databases. This makes them have access to very sensitive organizational and personal information. Also, they have the capacity to access some of our personal information. In both cases, I am not aware of any special program that was designed to educate or conscientize them on the ethics surrounding the management of the data and personal information of staff they can have access to. Moreover, I wish they had a strict code of ethics, similar to the Hippocratic Oath of physicians, where they promise to protect the database placed in their charge and never to use such data in any way that may cause anyone any harm (Carr, n.d.).

      When Database Administrators (DBAs) fail to be good stewards of the database they manage, they can cause serious harm to individuals (whose private information may be released to wrong persons who may use them for fraud or cause harm to their owners) or their organization. When DBAs fail at their jobs, it may lead to financial loss, loss of credibility for an institution, disharmony, civil unrest, political turmoil, electoral loss, hostility between nations, etc.

      References

      Carr, B. (n.d.). Database administrator’s code of ethics. RAMPANT TECHPRESS. Retrieved from http://www.rampant-books.com/art_oracle_dba_code_ethics.htm

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  2. Hi Edleltech,

    Thanks for the informative post. When it comes to privacy in the internet age, I think we are our own worst enemies. Most modern humans, especially those living in highly developed countries want life to be as convenient as possible with desires instantly fulfilled, goods delivered on the same day as purchased, and life’s bothersome chores taken care of by someone else. Each of these convenient transactions usually involve the internet and the consumer needs to reveal a little (sometimes a lot) about themselves in order to enjoy this expedient and labor saving lifestyle. However, people are quick to complain about the loss of privacy and stolen data even when the weakest security feature in all of these transactions is the user themselves. I was reminded of this weak link as I was viewing Leonhard’s (2014) video on digital ethics since while we may be reaching a point of singularity in terms of human interaction and artificial intelligence, I don’t believe most people will desire to network this way with their devices and the loss of privacy will be one of the biggest hurdles. Do you think we are ethically obligated to protect everyone’s privacy on the internet even when some people are trying to share all of their personal data whether knowingly or through fraud? Ben Hammer

    Reference:

    Leonhard, G. (2014, December 6). Digital ethics and the future of humans in a connected world. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/bZn0IfOb61U

    Like

    • Thanks for your post. Individuals have the primary duty and responsibility to protect their personal data. This is a great and important personal responsibility. When we have people’s personal data in our possession, especially personal information we receive when people send us important private information (pictures, or written information), we owe it to them to keep such information private and to see that they are safe with us (since we were trusted with such information). If they want such information to be public, it is their responsibility, not ours, to make them public. If we want to share such information with third parties, we owe it to their primary owners to seek their explicit permission to do so. If such persons want their personal information to be made public, they could share it through appropriate platforms that presents them as a public information. In such a case, I don’t believe that we are responsible for sharing such information.

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  3. You’ve chosen to focus on privacy, and I’m happy to see that from your research, the data collected is for the most part protected. A major concern we saw in the text was the relevance of the data, and whether or not it was factual. Is it ever okay to present fictitious data to funding agencies in order to gain monetary support and provide health services to the poor, thus serving the greater good? Why or why not?

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  4. The use of fictitious data to serve a good end is wrong. The creation and use of fictitious data is intellectually dishonest and misleading. It undermines the quest of the funding agency to make informed decision based on true data and this lie is misleading and may deny people with more urgent need the assistance they deserve. Moreover, it feeds the public with a wrong information in order to pursue a personal goal that an individual believes is the greatest good. It is unethical to tell a lie to achieve an end we believe is the greater good when we cannot effectively measure or ascertain this (Bowen, 2013). If providing health services to the poor is the most important need, we should use the accurate data we have to present our case and it will win the funding. If it is not, the application with the greater and more important need will receive the appropriate funding,

    References

    Bowen, S. A. (2013). Using classic social media cases to distill ethical guidelines for digital engagement. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 28(2), 119-133.

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  5. It feels like we often see in the news various breaches of privacy over the internet; yet despite the frequency of these breaches, it seems like privacy is an issue that has yet to be solved. I appreciate that you brought up the notion that there are times in which unauthorized access and use of personal information may be reasonable and can serve a good purpose. One new aspect of the privacy issue on the internet, yet serves a good purpose is the use of social media for academic research. For example, Facebook has conducted research on user behavior and found that children’s communication with parents decreased in frequency from age 13 to adulthood, but then pick back up in adulthood (Jayson, 2014). This research was developed through Facebook collecting user information and accessing posts. Some argue that the information included in posts is private information that should not be used for research, while others feel like the research that comes out of the use of the private user information does better than harm, therefor it is an acceptable use of private information. Facebook is just one example of companies who use unidentifiable user information for research, others like Google, Microsoft, and Twitter, also have engaged in research with using user information. This current practice reminds me of the responsibility that social media users must read the privacy policies of various social networks and understand what they are consenting to when they accept the user policy. Do you think companies have an additional responsibility to let users know when their information is being used for research, even if the user was technically informed in the sites privacy policy?

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    • No, I do not think that online companies need to let users know when their information are used for research purposes, after users have accepted the comapny’s privacy policy. This is because such request will undermine most research efforts (and we all will lose out on the possible benefits of such research) since most people do not respond to requests for such researches. Also, it is the responsibility of the user to read these policies and reject the service if they find their privacy policy intrusive. However, I will like the government and/or civil society to set up organizations that evaluate the privacy policies of these online companies to see if they may undermine the interests of the users or expose them to unnecessary risks. For instance, I find the access most Apps request to be granted in my smart devices very intrusive and wonder if such Apps cannot achieve the same end without such wide range access. Furthermore, I will expect such supervisory bodies to ensure that the methods used to embark on these online research and to access the private information of persons are vital enough for the common good to warrant access to such information. Finally, it should be ensured that whenever such research are even carried out they cannot be traced back to the persons with the original data.

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