Nowadays, the Internet has become an integral part of our lives. It has penetrated all sectors of our daily activities: business, communication, shopping and personal life. This has had a profound effect on our personal privacy, and the overall ethical perception of what personal privacy is. In an article written for ABC News, Elise Worthington has posed the statement that Internet security experts say there is no such thing as online personal privacy. A claim of which I will now investigate. There are three solid reasons to believe that there is no such thing as online personal privacy.
First, it is reasonable to state that personal details online are readily accessible. This is evident given social media sites often include personal information. As stated by Russ Warner, CEO of ContentWatch, “The data sales industry collects facts and stats when you enter information into an online form. This includes details from social networks, online purchases, credit reports, etc. Once information is entered, it can be stored, processed, analyzed and sold…
There are a number of sites like this that openly advertise their purpose: to collect and organize personal information from white pages, public records, and social networks to help others ‘find and learn about people’...
Not only can you view the information entered in online forms, you can also see personal photos, Google Maps images of your house, personal emails, spouse, relatives, educational status etc”. Reese Darragh states in her paper Recruiting risk: hiring via social media channels: glut of personal details in online profiles raises discrimination risk. One idea: segregation of recruiting duties, “Unlike traditional resume gathering, social media sites often include such information as age and religious beliefs and other sensitive information. And companies are using them more often. According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in April, 56 percent of the 277 survey participants claimed that they currently use social networking Websites during the recruiting process, compared to just 34 percent in 2008.”
As the above two examples show, the proliferation of personal information online is becoming increasingly easy to search. With the data coming from public government records, media articles and from the information you post on social media websites, third parties are able to gather enough information to paint a picture of your life. If viewed from the perspective of virtue ethics, the fact that personal details are easily found could be an advantage for a moral person. According to Aristotle, a moral person would be predisposed to act in an ethically acceptable manner, thus information that could be found would show them in a favorable light. From an Act utilitarianism perspective the collation of this personal information is morally permissible due to the fact that it produces the greater good for society as a whole. By knowing more information about a person, more informed decisions can be made about a person in a number of situations, leading a more cohesive society.
Further evidence that personal details online are readily accessible, is that potential employers use readily available information on social media to screen applicants. While companies have been cautious, they are increasingly completing online checks of potential candidates. A CareerBuilder study found that two in five companies now use social-networking sites LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to screen potential candidates. According to the survey which polled 2,000 hiring managers and human-resources professionals, they do this to see if a candidate appears professional and if they will fit in with the company culture.
David Klein a computer security professional argues because so much information is available, we have lost a lot of privacy. This is supported by the fact that while our most private information can’t traditionally be found online, you can now track down items like birth certificates, marriage and divorce information, obituaries and licenses on the web. A simple google search using any of this information can then in turn show more information about an individual. In the last two years, an industry of “people search engines” has sprung up with the specific purpose of helping you locate people online. From an individual and social perspective, information is of great importance. Thus from this we can state even Meta-data about a person that is shared online constitutes a loss of privacy.
Furthermore, In order to join most websites, you are required provide private information. This information is often then used as the basis for your profile on the site which is publicly shared. With the majority of websites now having a requirement for you to have an account with a public profile, it is now possible to get a myriad of information about you without ever having to actually speak to you. This means that people that you may not even know have the ability to know intimate details of your life, which is a clear loss of privacy. It is reported by the Digital Criminal that nearly two fifths of polled 2,000 social network users posted details of their holiday plans and 41% of them reveal private information to public or complete strangers. A study of Twitter conducted content by Lee Humphreys Ph.D. from Cornell University has shown that about a quarter of all users will frequently post details of their whereabouts and activities and who they are with. With this publicly broadcast information when combined with other publicly available information, users willingly rob themselves of their own privacy, which in turn can result in harassment, stalking and identity theft.
Posting personal information online poses no further risk to your privacy, as it is already available. The data sales industry collects facts and stats when you enter information into an online form the internet is a global phenomenon, thus online privacy concerns also become global, taking them outside the legal jurisdiction of one sovereign entity. With this taken into account it is evident that the majority information is already covertly available. With this in mind, by posting your personal information online yourself, you are ensuring that you can control what impression and image is portrayed to the general public. By completing a google search of your own name, you can see what information readily comes up, and fix it. In addition, Companies already collate information about you from different online sources to sell to advertising companies. Facebook has been a leader in data-mining, taking information from people’s profiles and studying their behavior to make money and improve the website. The social network announced in 2014 that it had plans to look at your personal conversations as a way to make more profits from targeted advertising. With companies such as Facebook taking your personal conversations and personal data to compile, it is clear that taking charge of your online presence and data is not a risk, but an opportunity to post more information, that can paint a more complete picture of yourself, and benefit you in the long run.
Given these considerations, it is clear that there is no such thing as online personal privacy. Since your personal details are already online and accessible, and these can easily be combined with meta-data from any one of a number of social media sites, the concept of online personal privacy is no longer valid.
By posting your personal information yourself with deliberate intent, you can more closely control what information is easily found, and control the impression that people will gleam from the information. By embracing the fact that your life online is irrevocably public.