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Forget Privacy. This is what the Big Boys want you to believe

“Privacy is over. Get used to it” is often attributed to Scott McNealy, former CEO of Sun. Is he right? The statement by Scott McNealy when interpreted as individuals having no choice but to assign very little value to personal privacy lends to the notion that individuals do not value privacy anymore.  In this paper, we put forth a contrary view: People care about privacy and online privacy can and should be protected.

The two main concerns of losing one’s privacy are centered on online behavior being tracked and entities monitoring an individual for scrupulous reasons.  “Online predators use information divulged in online profiles and social networking sites to identify potential targets” [1]. These generally do not matter until one is racially profiled or considered a threat to security or is a victim of cyber bullying.

A nonchalant attitude towards privacy issues or outweighing the benefits of information sharing over privacy has a tendency to fuel companies increasing their monitoring activities and aggressively selling personal information for commercial reasons. “Letting the guard down on privacy could also cause harm to the most vulnerable section of the online demographic, children and teenagers who share the most information.” [2]

Parents and job counselors have been warning for years that teenagers and young adults must not post unflattering images to their Facebook pages because, even if deleted, they will persist somewhere on the internet and may be found by prospective colleges and employers [3]. One of the problems around private information being misused centers around how companies such as Google and Facebook use posted information.

Instagram, shortly after being acquired by Facebook, issued new terms of service that gave the company the right to use uploaded images without permission and without compensation. Imagine the damage it could do to a teenager who posted an impulsive “dirty” picture and Instagram uses it to advertise a liquor brand. This example reflects the worsening of privacy misuse as a result of unchecked regulation.

The way out of this is education and regulation. In 1597, Sir Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is Power”. The more informed the society is, the better it can address need for privacy. Consumers will have to be better educated so they can make the right choice when providing information online. Governments can take an active role in how companies use personal information for commercial purposes.

Companies such as Facebook and Google have a lot to gain commercially by loosening the grip on privacy. The title of this essay with a mention of “Get used it” is a reflection of how these companies want consumers to react – a sense of hopelessness about increasing privacy regulations. However, people still care about privacy. In a study by LoyaltyOne of 1000 consumers, 50 percent said they would not give a trusted company their religious affiliation, 51 percent would not give out their political affiliation, 64 percent would not give out their health information and 85 percent would not give their smartphone location and 75 percent would not give out their browsing history. [4]

These numbers indicate that consumers still value privacy. There has to be a balance between information sharing and how this information is used by companies and other entities. Government regulation of companies who collect and share information could be the key.

References

[1] Wolak J, Finkelhor D, Mitchell K, Ybarra M. Online “Predators” and Their Victims: Myths, Realities, and Implications for Prevention and Treatment. American Psychologist, 2008;63, 111-128.[2] Lenhart A. Social Media and Young Adults. Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2010[3]Mark F. Foley. Technology Law Update February 2013[4]Bryan Pearson, LoyaltyOne

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