by Colin Barry
This article defines what internet privacy should be, then shows how it doesn't exist.
|The internet has changed much of today’s society. We can now interact with friends, conduct business, and even shop online. It is a great tool that has the capacity to make life all the more efficient. What people feel naturally entitled to is the ability to roam the internet with the same degree of privacy as one does off the internet. Only close friends and family know my phone number, so only those whom I give it to on the internet should know as well. Unfortunately this is not the case; privacy on the internet is a thing of the past if it ever even existed.
Everyone needs a certain degree of privacy in their lives. Even the biggest extrovert needs their morning routine, or at least something that they can keep for themselves. Shouldn’t this privacy apply to the internet as well? First let us define what theoretical internet privacy would be like, and then we can see whether or not it is what the internet has to offer. Internet privacy should consist of the following: Firstly the freedom to divulge only what information one wants to give. Secondly, that divulged information is kept by the companies given to it, and only those companies. Thirdly, that companies with an individual’s divulged information keep the info safe and secure from those that are trying to steal it. While exceptions may exist in random corners of cyberspace, Internet privacy as just defined does not exist as a whole.
When browsing the internet, certain websites may ask for information like email, name, and phone number. For the person browsing, this may seem like a reasonable amount of information to give out. However, this may not be the only kind of info the website can take from you. According to “The Customer Economics of Internet Privacy”, “In addition to the customer information that is voluntarily provided by customer themselves, businesses can also collect information on customer online behavior using cookies and click stream analysis, which do not require conscious participation of the consumer” (Economics 456). These cookies and click stream analyses can be easily stored and create particular customer profiles of what types of items the customer is more likely to click on for their site. With this information, online companies can target their customers with specific products they are more likely to buy, as well as discriminate other products against them. It is as if you walked in a store and someone was hired to follow you around and make notes on where you go and how much time you spend there. The next time you enter the store you are immediately bombarded by people holding up products you had previously been interested in. With the low economic cost and ease of obtaining this information from users of the site, it can be safe to assume that most high traffic sites have certain variations of obtaining this information; a violation of internet privacy.
At least only websites you interact with have your data, right? Wrong, these customer profiles can be sold to other websites to make an additional profit. Now other websites have access to this information, be it personal or interest oriented. Either way your information spreads. The Economics of Internet Privacy explains how this is done: “Although the secondary use of personal information violates the principle of autonomy and is considered an invasion of consumers’ privacy, commercial Web sites are still selling or renting consumers’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, and purchase histories to interested marketers” (465). Various ethical “no no’s” are perfectly acceptable business strategies on the internet. Ever wonder why you get all that spam about various pills or insurance? It is because one company that you input personal information has sold off that data for profit. This opportunity for easy profit makes these internet companies more inclined to sell off your information. This is another violation of internet privacy because it is the act of giving away of divulged information.
So what if I’m receiving a little more spam and a few more companies have my information; what’s the problem? The danger is more than just nuisance e-mails; it could extend to affect you economically. These “legitimate” companies aren’t taking enough measures to keep your information secure from those who could take your money as well. Purchase one thing online, and your credit information is automatically stored to that website. The option of “saving” your card information is only there to make it easier for the user to purchase things in the future. The credit card data is automatically already stored in the process. Most companies like Wal-Mart and Amazon include guarantees against fraud that can come from divulging banking information.
These guarantees, which sometimes reference the Fair Credit Billing Act, typically pledge reimbursement of unauthorized charges made to a credit card if such charges resulted from purchasing through the online retailer’s secure system. Because the maximum retailer liability for such a guarantee would typically be $50 and because cases of online credit card fraud from security breaches are reported as very infrequent, this retail practice would likely serve as a reasonable method of allaying consumers concerns (Anthony and Ana, 57).
The guarantee is one of the biggest “security” measures that these companies put in place. If there is a case of fraud, in which the customer is already unlikely to report, the company would typically only pay out around the 50 dollars as mentioned; a very insignificant figure for them. Companies would rather pay off the occasional $50 than establish more secure ways of inputting financial information. This is yet another violation of internet privacy.
Of the three defining requirements of theoretical internet privacy, the majority of the internet companies meet none. The freedom to divulge only what information the user wants to divulge has been lost. Companies continue to take other information from the user without the user’s consent. Freedom to have divulged information contained only by the companies it has been given to no longer exists; these companies sell it to others for profit. Also the freedom to have your information secure with an individual’s divulged information is gone because not enough measures are taken to keep that information safe. Internet privacy no longer exists because most of these larger companies fail to provide internet privacy as defined.
Miyazaki, Anthony D., and Ana Fernandez. "Internet Privacy and Security: An Examination of Online Retailer Disclosures." Journal of Public Policy & Marketing 19.1 (2000): 54-61. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2012.
Rust, Roland. T., P. K. Kannan, and Na. Peng. "The Customer Economics of Internet Privacy." Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 30.4 (2002): 455-64. Springerlink. Springer Netherlands, 27 Apr. 2008. Web. 10 Apr. 2012.