Online Privacy?

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In a world where technology provides for an abundance of resources that ultimately make our lives much easier, there are also some setbacks that need to be taken into evaluation. One in particular that seems to be the backbone of controversy in recent news is the death of privacy. It is only due to recent leaks that people have been exposed to the data collection of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google. In each of these cases, the aforementioned companies have gained the trust of their users (getting their users to give their intimate information) only to turn around and sell it to the highest advertisement bidder. Is it wrong for companies to sell the information of their users? Furthermore, where do we draw the line between what is private and what we can share? And in that light, is our information our right? In order to best tackle these questions, one must first be aware of how these companies often manipulate our own information to make money.

Just recently, Facebook conducted research to understand the effects that its news feed has on its users. Specifically, the multi-billion dollar company wanted to see the effects of altering a Facebook user’s newsfeed with positive or negative posts. They were curious whether these Facebook users would then post positive or negative words based on what they were primed with. This psychological experiment was targeted towards 700,000 people over the period of one week (Atlantic, Robinson Meyer). When news of this experiment hit the media, the company received major backlash, as many were in awe about what they had done. People were concerned because it seemed to reflect a lack of understanding of the current public feeling of sensitivity online. In other words, people became suspicious of the fact that Facebook is either oblivious to cyber negativity or they simply do not care about its effects. With the current implementation of many campaigns that are trying to make online interaction positive (i.e. anti bullying campaigns), it is very disappointingly stimulating to see such a negative setback during a positive movement. Below is a video that shows how negativity in the online sphere can severely impact a person’s real life.

So, for Facebook to purposely create a negative online experience for a user makes the company appear to be lacking a sensitivity chip. However, the emotional implications of this invasion of privacy are just one of the factors that are put into play by Facebook’s actions. In addition, people are also forced to question their ownership of information online. What truly belongs to a person? Is any information still sacred?

In the picture diagram shown below, one can see the complex nature of how online advertising works. This graphic shows how much money is to be made by having ownership of people’s actions/information online.

what-is-google-adwords

This graphic allows a viewer to see how much money companies like Facebook can make, but at what cost? Many would say it is at a cost that is as high as our basic human rights.

Specifically, notorious government whistleblower has been speaking out against various websites that violate users privacy. He emphasizes the importance of protecting your privacy, “When you say, ‘I have nothing to hide,’ you’re saying, ‘I don’t care about this right.’ You’re saying, ‘I don’t have this right, because I’ve got to the point where I have to justify it.’ The way rights work is, the government has to justify its intrusion into your rights – you don’t have to justify why you need freedom of speech.” (RT News) This quotation is the reason why privacy has become such a controversial issue. Because even though we might think our likes and dislikes on websites like Facebook or Google are irrelevant, they reflect a larger issue – ownership of our ideas. But between all of the scandals and unusual experiments, this concept tends to get lost. We are not fighting over advertisement costs and Facebook’s searches. Rather, the bigger theme we are fighting over is the right to choose and determine what we care about. At the present state, the online world has taken over how we use the Internet and what we find ourselves interested in. As Edward Snowden points out, we must take this right as seriously as any other because if we don’t then we will loose it (RT News). If the big companies like Facebook/Google/Twitter etc. were to have their way, then we would become mindless in our online interaction. But when we are engaged in online activity and take ownership in what our interests are, the online world is our oyster to explore.

Discussion Questions:

1) America is a capitalistic country, and within its system are many gray areas that intersect the legalities and the moral stances that companies like Facebook/Google/Twitter etc. choose to take.  In that sense, although these companies are technically doing legal work, is it immoral?  Furthermore, is our privacy on the internet our right as citizens?

2) Is it wrong/immoral for companies like Facebook/Google/Twitter etc. to sell the information that their users openly give them?  Additionally, where is the line drawn between what is private and what is open to the public?

3) Since many companies like Facebook are making ridiculous amounts of money from our information, should we be compensated for this?  If so, how would this idea be approached?

Works Cited:

“Facebook Is Watching You Screenshot.” 2014. JPG file. http://www.taringa.net/comunidades/conspiranoicos-t/1777638/Is-Watching-You-NEO-Conspiracion-Positiva.html

“‘Hostile to Privacy’: Snowden Urges Internet Users to Get Rid of Dropbox.” – RT News. N.p., 12 Sept. 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2014.

“How Does The AdWords Work? Screenshot.” 2014. JPG file. http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2011/11/16/how-adwords-works

Meyer, Robinson. “Everything We Know About Facebook’s Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 28 June 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2014.

“What’s on your mind?.” Youtube. Youtube, 2 June 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2014.

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