Chew on This: Digital Privacy & Ethics

We all know to be careful what you post online - but what about what you search? And what you text your friend? In the modern age, everything we thought we knew about privacy has changed. What is your stance on this issue?
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I’m sure we’ve all experienced this: you visit a site to buy jackets, for example, and the next time you log onto your Facebook account, all of the sudden every advertisement that pops up is about the latest and greatest deals about jackets. While it might be a little strange and even unsettling, at the end of the day, it’s not a big deal; you get on with your life and see more selections of jackets, but is it really so easy to brush off?

In a day and age where high-speed internet is considered a basic service, we often forget that that’s exactly what the internet is — a service. Like public transit or a visit to the doctors office, services don’t come for free. So when you really think about it, the fact that we can access endless amounts of information at the hands of websites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and et cetera for free, the internet seems a little too good to be true. That’s because you are actually a crucial part of their business. When you visit a website, such as a clothing site, you allow cookies, some of which send messages about the content you are looking at to interested parties such as marketing agencies, who pay big bucks to collect your customer information that will, in-turn, help them earn more by advertising to you.

“But I didn’t consent to this?”

You’re right,  often times, the use of third-party cookies is unknown because of how hidden the disclaimers can be on websites. However, due to the privacy issue it poses, some governing bodies such as the European Union have passed laws making it mandatory for websites to outwardly state the use of cookies and ask for consent. However, many disclaimers simply state that, if you don’t like the cookies, don’t visit the website, essentially forcing you into a corner on the matter. And cookies are not the only personal information being tracked and sold, in fact, data from the apps you use and everything in-between can be used to create a digital profile of who you are to better help advertisers cater to your interests. The video below provides some examples of how your seemingly private information isn’t so private:

Privacy & Ethics

While the issue of personal data tracking for advertising is one thing — maybe you enjoy seeing good deals on the products and services you are interested in — there are times when personal privacy is challenged and the lines between right or wrong are more unclear. To bring up a relevant current event that has stirred the minds of lawmakers and citizens alike, mass-surveillance as a method to combat terrorism has been hotly debated as of late, and for good reason too. Many countries, including Canada, have their own government-based spy agencies that monitor their citizens’ information. From phone numbers, home addresses, to your internet searches, these institutions aim serve to identify and stop those suspected of extremism.

While rooted in good intentions, the effectiveness of the surveillance, as well as the ethical issues it brings up, have all come into question. In order to find flaggable or remotly suspicious internet downloads or activity, agencies have to sift through millions of music downloads and family photos. This can make the process slow and untimely. In the case of a video obtained by a spy agency of an unknown German hostage, the said hostage was killed in May 2012, months before the video was found. As well, the fact that government agencies can access private information about you without anyone knowing (the knowledge of these practices came from a whistleblower’s leak), truly puts into question your digital privacy.

With the world still changing and adapting alongside rapdily interconnected internet systems, it’s unlikely that we will see an end to the digital privacy debate. That being said, it is a multifaceted and deep issue that requires further reading to truly understand, and the list below is a good place to start. Have an opinion on this issue? Share it below in the comments – at your own discretion!

Further reading:

Edward Snowden: NSA Whistleblower: BBC News

Apple and the San Bernardino Shooter’s iPhone Unlock: Washington Post

CSE: Effective at Countering Terrorism? Disputable: Huffington Post

Stealing from the Internet: It’s possible: Huffington Post

The Desire for Privacy vs. The Desire for Likes: New York Times


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