Does Privacy Exist on the Internet?

The Internet is like your nosy neighbor that tries to peer into what is going on.  Only your neighbor might experience a memory lapse after a point in time, yet the Internet tracks and mines your online activity.

When Google announced its new controversial privacy policy in March 2012, Internet users were on high alert.  Interest in online privacy spiked and was at the forefront of users’ attention.  Users began to question how and why companies like Google and Facebook manage their data?  Should we be worried?  Deep down inside we know there is more information available about us on the Internet than there ever was before.  Our information is being shared online and most of the time without our consent.

Google is able to combine user data across its services, including search, YouTube, Google+, Gmail and Google Docs.  Allowing companies to understand what we do, what we search and what we buy, helps corporations make a profit by analyzing and recording our actions.  But how do users benefit from this?  Are they reaping a percentage of the profit companies are generating from mining online personal data?  Unfortunately no.  All the user receives are benefits in the form of tailored services, such as recommendations based on past search results.

Facebook is another example of a company that manages and sells user data.  One of Facebook’s greatest assets is its storehouse of personal data on 900 million people.  Is Facebook likely to keep user data private, as that seems like the ethical thing to do?  Nope.  They will continue to make a profit by selling targeted ad space to companies that wish to target Facebook users.  If your profile indicates you like running and outdoor activities, expect an ad from an outdoor sporting goods retailer.  85 percent of Facebook’s total revenue, a mere $3.2 billion came from advertising revenue last year.  However, in comparison to Google that seems insignificant.  Google’s estimated advertising revenue in 2011 was $36.5 billion.  Google and Facebook are not alone.  Countless companies are interested in personal online data.  By implanting cookies or other tracking mechanisms on people’s computers and Internet browsers, they are able to access online data.

Attempting to understand and keep track of our personal data being shared online seems like and arduous task.  We have limited, if not no control, over what information is shared, with whom and at what price.  If you are not keen on sharing your Internet activity details with advertisers there is a solution.  A new browser extension called PrivacyFix allows users to manage their privacy settings on the Web.  PrivacyFix supports Google Chrome and Firefox and checks your privacy settings across websites, particularly Google and Facebook.  A dashboard explains and displays your settings, allowing users to manage them directly.  It does not point out all the privacy settings on major sites like Facebook, Google and other sites, but focuses on the most critical ones.

Photo source: Bill Frymire


3 thoughts on “Does Privacy Exist on the Internet?”

  1. I like your points about internet privacy. With the high speed of communication and technology today, it’s hard to use the internet anymore without being watched, or in other words, being tracked. If we want to participate in internet, we will face quite a few privacy violation problems, and for me the biggest one is tracking cookies. It is annoying because it follows our every move and sees which website we visit most frequently and what other websites we pay attention to. In this way, advertisers can easily decide what to sell us and it is even worse that our important information like contacts list and photos maybe disclosed. However, although we know well the problem, we have to pretend that our information is out there safe and try not to worry about it. Why? That’s because social networks keep us constantly signed in, not only from desktops or laptops, but also from iPhone, iPad and other tablet apps. This is an inevitable trend that we cannot refuse to follow.
    Therefore, it is important to equip with some privacy protection tools. You’ve mentioned the PrivacyFix, that’s helpful. Here I want to recommend another one called Disconnect. It is a suite of free browser extensions that provide in-private browsing and search as well as prevent third parties from following you around the web. You can download it for Chrome, Firefox or Safari, or select from anti-tracking tools specifically for Facebook, Twitter or Google. Disconnect also offers an informational tool called Collusion for Chrome and Firefox, which reveals who’s tracking you online. Best of all, it will never collect your IP address or any other personal information.

  2. I believe you brought up some great point, Anisha. Sadly, I have to agree: there is definitely no such thing as privacy on the Internet. Not really anyway. Of course there are still places like 4chan where the Internet can get pretty weird, and anonymity is the rule and not the exception. A lot of times I don’t believe the average person even needs to worry about their privacy being invaded – the average person – but everyone should worry about the long memory the Internet has. In other words, it’s like an elephant: it just won’t forget. When you say something on the Internet chances are it’s been reposted, reblogged, and realotofotherthings within the first two minutes of your post’s life.

  3. Thanks for the advice on PrivacyFix and Disconnect… I had started thinking that there was nothing I could do to protect my privacy, specially with the constant changes being made to online policies, like Google’s and Facebook’s. It’s good to know that we have a choice on the matter, and that we can still use the Internet normally and know that our information can remain private.

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