Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Piracy of Your Privacy

Privacy on the Internet has become non-existent in the digital age.  Your digital footprint is tracked and analyzed by various marketing firms all vying for your attention.  They have found ways to weasel into your computer, tablet, phone, and other Internet-connected devices.  They know every website you visit, how long you were there, what you did there, how long you were there, how you got there, and even where you are signing in from.  Nothing is secret anymore, so be mindful of the information that you send to cyberspace. 

Web browsers like Google Chrome have found a sneaky way to track all of your digital movements across all devices.  They ask you to sign in.  This act allows Google to keep a history of all of your movements on all devices.  The “Stay Signed In” checkbox on the login page keeps this action further from the user’s mind because they do not have to sign in each time they open Chrome. 

Chrome is also able to combine all of your Google services.  Like the slogan on the page says, “One account.  All of Google.”  This means that they know of all of the Google Apps you are using and how you are using them. 

According to PC Mag, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued an advisory on Web tracking of customers.  Chrome was one of many browsers to enable features that protect their users from advertisers.  They also have an Incognito Mode that allows users to move around the Web without leaving a footprint behind.1  While these options allow a user their privacy, most users are not aware that they exist or understand their purpose. 

Further actions have been taken in the industry with the creation of websites such as donottrack.us.2 which allows users to opt out of tracking by websites that they do not personally visit.  However, a Wall Street Journal Investigation found that the top 50 websites in the United States install an average of 64 individual trackers to visitor computers.3 These trackers are often fast and invisible.  Even though this article was written in 2010, it is not hard to imagine that tracking software changes as fast as its governing laws do.

Why do companies want to stay ahead of governance?  NBC News reports that is because online data has been transformed into a lucrative marketplace.  Information is being sold to the highest bidder.  This information includes names, addresses, phone numbers, and credit card numbers, which are being traded out in the open.4  This continues to be a growing concern among consumers.  According to a study performed by the Pew Research Center, fifty percent of Internet users are worried about the information about them online, compared to thirty three percent in 2009.  Of those surveyed, eighty six percent of people have tried at least one technique to hide their activity online or avoid being tracked.5  The study also found that 68 percent of people feel that the law is insufficient to protect their privacy.

Causes of Privacy Loss:
  •  People are providing too much information on social network sites and email.
  • E-Commerce sites are better able to hide their tracking
  • Security breaches of E-Commerce websites

 Laws for security breaches come from individual states.  Currently, states require businesses and public agencies to notify consumers of security breaches of personal information.  According to USA Today, California often leads the way in challenging privacy issues.  They are considering multiple protections for Internet users.6
  •  Password Protection – California feels that security breach laws should also protect passwords, usernames, and security questions.  Hackers for popular social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Yahoo stole nearly two million usernames and passwords.
  • Do Not Track – While current legislation does not ban tracking, the new legislation requires companies to disclose how they comply with requests from Internet users who ask not to be tracked.
  • The Teen “Eraser” Law – Requires all website and mobile app operators to provide a way for those under 18 to delete a posting or photo.  The reasoning is to protect those under 18 from publically sharing “ill-advised pictures or messages”. 

Works Cited

1. Muchmore, Michael. "Google Chrome 31." PCMAG. PC Mag, 11 Dec. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

2. Mayer, Jonathan, and Arvind Narayanan. "Do Not Track." - Universal Web Tracking Opt Out. Center for Internet and Society, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

3. Butler, Christopher. "Unlimited vs. Limited Web Tracking." Tracking Best Practices. Newfangled, 01 Sept. 2010. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

4. Sullivan, Bob. "Online Privacy Fears Are Real." Msnbc.com. NBC News, 6 Dec. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

5. Flaherty, Anne. "Study Finds Online Privacy Concerns on the Rise." Yahoo! News. Yahoo!, 05 Sept. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

6. Prah, Pamela M. "Target's Data Breach Highlights State Role in Privacy." USA Today. Gannett, 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

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