Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Privacy and Secrecy on the Internet: "None of Your Business!"

Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been quoted as saying, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." I don't think this is true in the least. When privacy on the internet is discussed, there's numerous topics that jump into people's mind, such as pornographic content, software/media piracy, and Googling things such as "how to get away with a murder" or "how to make a bomb". However, people need to examine more than the obvious/illegal/extreme reasons for wanting to keep something private.

First of all, we need to realize that Google has every right to collect our information, like it or not. Because of this, we have to use our best judgement when deciding what to use Google for and what not to use it for. According to Google terms of service (, "Essentially, Google is saying they have some rights to anything you submit to them. While complicated to understand, here is where this comes into play: for Senior Design, we are designing an online Flash game. However, we needed a place for our group to store some shared documents and code so that we could all work on it. We realized that GoogleDocs was NOT the place for this because we don't want them to have access to any of our source code.

Not only does Google collect our information, but many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) also do this too. According to an article in the book Readings in Cyberethics by Richard Spinello, ISP information collection is becoming an important tool for fighting against piracy. Record companies are realizing that it is horribly cost inefficient to sue individuals who have pirated (be it uploaded or downloaded) copyrighted music. Instead, they are bringing ISPs into play. Not all ISPs have jumped on board with the record companies, but the ones that have use roughly the following formula:

1. If the information gathered from a subscribers internet usage shows that they are pirating material, they will be monitored.
2. Should the act continue, they will receive a cease and desist letter.
3. Should the act continue still, their internet will be disabled.

While this may be an effective method to combat piracy, is it proper? How much privacy should we have on the net? What if our anonymity was taken away almost completely, such as mandatory internet ID cards:

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