Carlson Essay 2

Personal Privacy on the Internet

As a society, we are insatiably inquisitive yet also insist on being left alone. Today, the Internet allows us to cultivate this curiosity and get our hands on information more quickly than our predecessors ever imagined, with just a few clicks of the mouse. We have begun to abandon our desire to keep private information confidential, allowing virtually anyone to be privy to the details of our whereabouts, both on the Internet and in our personal lives. The majority of us are blind to the consequences of our senseless posting and surfing. Many of us don’t realize that our anonymous blogging and comments are traceable, and are unaware that cookies track all of our virtual whereabouts meticulously. It is indeed possible to make yourself untraceable, but it involves significant care and know-how. (Solove 147).

The advent of social networking sites, including Facebook in 2004, has further diminished the existence of personal privacy. As Sun MicroSystems CEO Scott McNealy coyly stated, “Privacy is dead, deal with it,” (Meeks).

Facebook currently has more than 350 million active users worldwide, and now allows people to share more information than ever, faster than ever. We log on daily, sharing countless albums of our most recent photos and current whereabouts (via status updates) with more than 1,000 of our “closest friends.” Websites like Flickr allow people to post their photos and share them with the world. More than sixty-five thousand videos are uploaded to YouTube daily (Solove 169).

Until 2006, when Facebook launched the News Feed feature, users had to know whose information they wanted to see and had to navigate to their specific page in order to do it. Now, News Feed does all the work for you and instantly notifies your Facebook friends when you make changes to your profile—post pictures, change relationship status, add personal information, etc. As one might anticipate, this unexpected change left users feeling overexposed and overwhelmed by the unnecessary information that now cluttered the site. Many voiced their opinions to the creator and founder of Facebook, Inc., Mark Zuckerberg. In response to the outcry, Zuckerberg issued an apology for “the site’s failure to include appropriate customizable privacy features,” (Solove 169).

Although bothersome, the Facebook change gave users an increased awareness of the privacy dangers of the Internet. Although users might think it is too quaint to expect all of their secrets to remain in the bag, this doesn’t mean that they don’t care about privacy. They just see privacy differently. (Solove 169). Speaking for the first generation of Facebook users, we do not mind posting and sharing information as long as we are in control of who sees it and when. The majority of us are well aware of the consequences of posting inappropriate content to sites such as Facebook. These sites have essentially become both public resumes and criminal reports displaying our extra curricular interests.

Not only that, sophisticated marketers at companies such as Google and Yahoo have developed new tools to track consumers and display ads that are only most relevant to them. To the surprise of the developers at these companies, Internet users are providing far more information than ever expected. Google’s Ad Interest Manager is a form of interest-based advertising and uses information about the web pages people visit to make the online ads they see more relevant. Users also have the option to opt out of having their data collected for such purposes.

To get a better idea of my peers’ awareness of the developments in Internet privacy, I surveyed 135 people. I first asked them if they were aware that Facebook uses a data tracking system to manage information and to place ads of interest to them on their homepage. 80% (108 people) of them answered yes and 20% (27 people) answered no. I also asked if they were aware that every time they logged online, they were being tracked by digital cookie codes. 62% of them (84 people) were aware, and 38% (51 people) were not. However, when I asked if they even knew what a cookie was, only 7% percent (9 people) did. This data enumerates a variety of issues at hand for Facebook’s largest group of users, ranging in age from 18 to 22. They are aware that Facebook has access to (and owns) information that is posted to the site and information about how the site is used. However, many people are unaware of exactly how this works, and what tools are used to do so.

I also asked them how cautious they were about giving out information about themselves on the Internet, particularly their address, phone number, and credit card information. No one rated themselves as “not cautious”, and approximately 95% of the people (128) rated themselves as “moderately cautious to very cautious.” The survey results illuminate the fact that students are, as a whole, cautious about what they post on the Internet, and do so both consciously and willingly.

When asked how often they deleted the cache from their personal computers, 4% said daily, 20% said weekly, 32% said monthly, 16% said twice a year, and 27% said never. When asked how often they delete the cache after using a public computer, 99 people said never, 11 people said 20% of the time, 9 people said 50% of the time, and 16 people said always. When asked if they even knew what cache was before taking this survey, the answers were split approximately 50/50.

The cache is a special hidden directory that is listed under the profile of the user who is logged into the computer. Microsoft configured the cache directory so that it cannot be searched or viewed by lay people. However, administrators of the directories at public places, such as libraries, have access to this information. In addition, the incidence of hacking into and phishing of directory information has been increasing, which is causing users to lose more control over their Internet privacy.

Garfinkel says we need to rethink privacy in the 21st Century. “It’s not about the man who wants to watch pornography in complete anonymity over the Internet. It’s about the woman who’s afraid to use the Internet to organize her community against a proposed toxic dump - afraid because the dump’s investors are sure to dig through her past if she becomes too much of a nuisance,” Garfinkel writes. (Meeks) Because of the many advancements on the Internet, it is becoming increasingly important to delete our history and keep our private information as secure as possible.

Works Cited
Ben Franklin's Website. Privacy Journal, 2000. Web. 9 Dec. 2009. < privacy-timeline?mode=embed&documentId=080905202111-362202d8bd0b48319813a4aac215b34c&layout=grey>.
Burkitt, Laurie. "Does Using The Internet Mean Giving Up Privacy?" Consumer Privacy., 7 Dec. 2009. Web. 7 Dec. 2009. <Does Using The Internet Mean Giving Up Privacy?>.
Meeks, Brock N. "Is privacy possible in the digital age? If it isn?t dead, then it?s hanging on by a thread." Opinion. MSNBC, 8 Dec. 2000. Web. 4 Dec. 2009. <>.
Solove, Daniel J. The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2007. Print.
Szoka, Berin. "Google's Ad Preference Manager: One Small Step for Google, One Giant Leap for Privacy." The Progress and Freedom Foundation, Mar. 2009. Web. 10 Dec. 2009. <>.

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