Justifying the Invasion Of Privacy

Web service providers such as Google and Yahoo have to ability to invade their users’ privacy. The online services that they provide collect users’ private information. According to an article in Communications Engineer, the author mentioned that many online service users are unaware that their emails and the internet sites they visit are being recorded for reasons of financial benefits (Vitaliev, 2007). Web service providers are able to use the recorded information to target advertisements to users and thus achieving financial benefits for themselves. Many users are not aware of this and choose to give web service providers permissions to use their information for the providers’ financial benefits. Most users abruptly click “Agree” when signing up for the providers’ services without reading the user’s agreement, and thus are not informed that their information is collected.

It is hard to believe that many users have accepted to give access to service providers permission of their private data in exchange for convenient online services. This is a tradeoff to enjoy the convenience. But is it justifiable for users to give up their privacy to enjoy the convenience? The invasion of user’s privacy can be subject to justification only if users are informed about the usage of their private information by web service providers.

In addition, the invasion can be more justifiable if there are limitations on what types of information web service providers have access to. In an NBC News article, the author mentioned a quote saying that “there are no limits to what types of information can be collected, how long it can be retained, with whom it can be shared or how it can be used” (Weisbaum, 2011). The quote means that at the current moment, service providers have no limitations over what types of information they can collect and use. Even if limitations exist, they often are vague and not restrictive enough to limit service providers from collecting users’ information that is too private. Therefore, limiting access to the intricate and personal details collected in users’ private information should be emphasized. For instance, service providers can continue to collect information from users as it is today, but they are forbidden to access that information in any way that would reveal users’ identity. In other words, service providers cannot have access to the details of one user’s information at a single moment, but are allowed to access a collection of scrambled and non-personally-identifiable information of a group of users. This essentially creates a win-win situation because users’ private information is not personally identifiable and service providers have access to information that benefits them financially.

In conclusion, to subject the invasion of their privacy to justification, users have to be informed about web service providers using their private information. On the other hand, the invasion of users’ privacy is more justifiable when proper limitations are imposed on web service providers when accessing collected users’ information.

Without knowing what the user’s agreement is about, would you still click “Agree”?

References

Vitaliev, D. (2007). Big brother is watching you [Internet security]. Communications Engineer, 5(5), 20–25. doi:10.1049/ce:20070502

Weisbaum, H. (2011, March 24). Who’s watching you online? FTC pushes ‘Do Not Track’ plan. NBC News. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/42239031/ns/business-consumer_news/t/whos-watching-you-online-ftc-pushes-do-not-track-plan/#.WKcipxjMyV4