Monday, January 17, 2011

Week 1: Online Privacy Rights

Google CEO Eric Schmidt's comments about online privacy are disturbing. After reading through the assigned articles, a couple of key points popped into my mind. In Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think," Bush states that the human race needs to keep records of important discoveries and thoughts for future generations to benefit from. He also discusses the problem of finding those records out of the mass of other records. In order to keep and retrieve records on the internet today we need intelligent search engines. To sort and organize the results, it is necessary to gather as much relevant information about the subjects in the records.

A problem arises when an author of a record only intends for a certain audience to retrieve that record in the future. Search engines (such as Google) are designed to grab as much as possible about a subject so that the user can quickly make judgements about that subject, sometimes without even clicking on a link. For example, if someone has been charged with a crime but not convicted (not found guilty), shouldn't Google's results display that the person isn't guilty? Often it wont, potential employers might see that the person has had legal problems and immediately dismiss them as a potential employee.

Another problem with maintaining privacy (while using the internet) is that information is often sent through a maze of different companies that, unlike
ARPANET, can harvest that information for their own interests without the public's knowledge or permission. Encryption has helped keep email, passwords, and financial information more secure. However, there is always someone out there with the means to defeat the encryption. Whether that's a government, business, or individual, the internet is certainly (unfortunately) not a place to communicate private matters with the expectation of totally secure transmissions.


  1. "the internet is certainly (unfortunately) not a place to communicate private matters with the expectation of totally secure transmissions."
    I couldn't agree with you more on this matter. It seems so many people fail to realize that everything they access and use online is mediated by at least 1, if not multiple third parties. Your ISP sees what you do, your email service provider can snoop through your mail if they desired, and your online banking accounts hold a complete record of everything you buy, where at, when, and for how much.

    The advantages of speed, organization, and automation that come with digital technologies also means extensive and easily accessed records of everything we do using these technologies as well.

  2. I think you made a very interesting point when you gave an example of searching for someone on Google who is charged with a crime but not convicted. This example was thought-provoking for me. This information could be very damaging to the person even though they are not found guilty.

    I agree with your stand on this issue - many people do not realize the extent to which information online can be accessed. And with technology on the rise, the means to defeat encryption will increase as well.