The Right to Online Privacy
“One thing should be clear, even though we live in a world in which we share personal information more freely than in the past, we must reject the conclusion that privacy is an outmoded value. It has been at the heart of our democracy from its inception, and we need it now more than ever.”
In an era where our Twitter profiles and Facebook accounts may be ever more accurate depictions of what we are, we can wind up feeling our physical world almost seems like a caricature. Petty complaints, mundane descriptions, an unfortunately lackadaisical attitude toward literacy, all can reveal to others a clear picture of what a person cares about at the moment. We can sometimes thoughtlessly rely a blanket adherence to conventions of society: that news can be spread safely, and thoughts can be echoed easily; but the anonymity of it all can lead to a diffusion of malicious intentions. The internet, in all of its escapist tangents, allows a person to reveal their inner neurosis with only the slightest acknowledgment that someone else will know about it. The spent on a shopping website, Google searches, and the willing divulging of personal information on a host of social sites leads to an increasingly complete picture of a person.
That complete picture of a person serves as a goldmine for advertisers and marketers all seeking to gain an edge in reaching their target consumer base. Industries only recently established have become firmly entrenched to process and predict what all this information means. Terabytes of data are regularly exchanged with only a hint of acknowledgment that it is not as private as it seems. The stipulation of receiving so many beneficial services either for free or for a minimal fee is that once content gets published it is processed, analyzed, and scrutinized for all its worth. An email passing through a Gmail server will be examined by formulas and key words will be analyzed and brought back as a reference for further ads.
Among the current of protests over the evolving infringement over personal privacy, the White House published its Consumer Bill of Rights. In it they declare that users have the following rights:
- Individual Control: Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data companies collect from them and how they use it.
- Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable and accessible information about privacy and security practices.
- Respect for Context: Consumers have a right to expect that companies will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
- Security: Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
- Access and Accuracy: Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data is inaccurate
- Focused Collection: Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain
- Accountability: Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.
Instead of a federal imposition on creating mandatory regulations about a blanket “do not track” list, that would completely anonymize online searches, third party groups have grown into developing that sort of technology. Donottrack.us is offering methods to circumvent the tracking that most major browsers do on the regular. Leibowitz did say he expects that “by the end of the year there’s going to be meaningful Do Not Track for American consumers so they can opt out of third-party advertisements.”
Europe offers a different approach to the growing encroachment of major internet providers on privacy. Instead of the current set of conditions that the major browsers provide, European regulators are calling for a default setting that does not track internet search history. An interesting dichotomy arises between the American and European responses. The EU has had an adamant online advertising campaign advocating for online privacy. NPR had an interesting report on this issue and found
“The European approach to privacy is that it’s potentially a very unequal relationship,” says Chris Docksey, director of the European Data Protection Authority. He says Americans regard online privacy as take-it-or-leave-it — if you want Gmail, you just click “I Accept.”
This “I accept” train of thought is ever present especially in social media sharing sites, especially Facebook and Twitter. Applications give away personal information that users may not be aware of, even though they may willingly agree to the terms and conditions. Not reading the terms and conditions is presupposed considering the length of a standard set. The average time required is 250 hours to read the terms and conditions all the way through. No surprise that users blindly agree.
Employers have begun to take advantage of the dissemination of personal information by job-seekers. Over 12% of hiring managers have admitted to using social media as a reason to not hire someone. With over 65% of respondents looking at professional appearance as a guide for whether or not the person fits the company culture.
An inappropriate online presence can affect not only your job search, but also in a criminal case. Both California and New York have proposed legislation to include information that has been transmitted over the internet as evidence in a trial. This includes not only public displays, but also emails or direct messages that have been sent without acknowledgement that they would be anything but private. As a preventative measure, Pennsylvania has passed legislation regarding emails sent at a work computer. They now require that employers provide evidence to suspect wrongdoing before they can investigate what emails were sent. Basing it on the theory that e-mail has become a mode of communication just as prevalent as a face to face conversation or phone call. This goes along with the U.S sixth district court of appeals ruling in U.S. v Warshak that “although an ISP has access to private e-mail, the government must obtain a search warrant before seizing such e-mail.”
The issue of online privacy tends to leave litigators at a sort of a crossroads, between insuring a citizen’s right to privacy and inhibiting businesses from functioning at the level they have become accustomed to. It may not necessarily be a loophole for businesses, but users do have the option of actually reading through the terms and conditions, but as has been pointed out it is absolutely impractical for the average user. The European attitude toward online privacy may be a more forward approach to the impositions on privacy by the current online marketplace. Regardless, governmental efforts may be fruitless as long as average citizens are content with current conditions.
Post By Vitaliy Perekhov
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