We want to investigate on whether the development of computer technology brings more positive or negative impacts on Internet privacy
5th Humanities Research Symposium for Youth
Theme: Technology and Freedom
Topic: Internet Privacy
Technology. Everyone living in this modern city must have heard of this noun. Technology is the scientific knowledge that makes a tool work. Since, the 19th century, the development of technology of different aspects has increased rapidly. And in recent years, the improvement of computer technology has been especially drastic. Therefore, we would like to focus on computer technology.
In the 1980s, computers were still very rare. But now, within 30 years, things have totally changed. For example, social networking sites are set up respectively and had hundred millions of users. Computer technology, doubtlessly, plays an important role in city people’s lives. It brings us the convenience to finish our work easier and faster while frees us from the distance between each person and enhance globalization.
However, seeing the growing-advanced computer technology, we are worried about the negative impact on our lives, especially how it affects our freedom. With the advance of technology, people are able to get information easily. This is an advantage for everyone. However, apart from useful information, some personal information may also appear whether it is intentionally done or not. Privacy on the internet is a major concern of computer users.
We, as typical Hong Kong students, are regular users of the Internet service. Internet privacy is a major computer problem that affects us. We think that the development of computer technology may lower our privacy on the Internet. Therefore, we want to investigate on whether the development of computer technology brings more positive or negative impacts on Internet privacy. We hope that through this research, we could know better about how different technology of software and functions of the internet that improves our life may affect our privacy.
We would investigate for this aim through various sub-topics, namely: new functions of social networking sites, keystroke logging software, the interference of the government on the information that its citizen gets and tracking advertisements. They are all run by newly developed technology such as face recognizing technology, tracking cookies, anti-virus software, keystroke logging technology etc. These technologies are developed for people’s convenience originally. However, they infringe our privacy sometimes due to improper application. Through these sub-topics, we may be able to investigate on these technologies are applied improperly by different groups of people (For groups with stronger influence: the government, worldwide companies. And for groups with less influence: Parents and friends).
We would also organize and synthesis previously conducted research and other scholarly discussion in order to broaden the research field. We would gather some related information from books, websites, news and reviews etc. References would be attached.
In recent years the use of the Internet has increased rapidly and many people rely on the Internet to communicate and finish tasks effectively. However as Thadani (2011) states, by using the Internet we are putting information about ourselves in the public domain, malicious parties may start to attack and misuse the information.
The article, Pressing Internet Privacy Issues 2011, has listed a few examples of Internet privacy threats and the most significant one is the use of social networks. Facebook is a popular social network which everyone seems to use it to let their friends connected on Facebook know what they are doing. They also share photos, videos, links, and update personal information. This poses a great threat to the users of the social network. Advertisers who are business partners of the social networks are particularly interested in your personal information, and so it would be easy for the social network to provide them what you say about yourselves. Also, some stalkers or hackers may search for your profile and steal information that you do not want to disclose, which may cause embarrassment or even financial loss. In the article it states that a person updates status messages and photos about her trip abroad, and then arrives home after a week to find her house being vandalized, as the malicious party decided to take advantage of the information. It is necessary that users of social networks increase their awareness of the safety of their personal information and protect their own privacy by not posting up any personal information about them that they do not want strangers to see, or set their privacy settings to a more protection-advanced setting. Also, privacy laws and tracking systems should be enforced as soon as possible to punish hackers and parties who misuse personal data illegally obtained, as well as monitor internet privacy to ensure safe and reliable use of the Internet for its users.
Another article, Essay on Internet Privacy, states how we, as citizens of the world, are not protected by the laws that the governments have set down to for internet privacy. Many times we are required to provide personal information on the Internet, and we do trust that the companies and the corporations will keep our personal information private. This is due to the fact that they state that they would, and that it is illegal to publicize their customers’ information. However, this article shows us that the laws are not protecting us and the reason is that there are loopholes in the laws. The article gives us an example of Amazon, one of the largest book-sellers in the world, and how even though on the surface they seem to be respecting our rights to privacy, by not disclosing our information to others, a big chance is that they might, if they go bankrupt. The highest bidder would get all the information that we, as individuals, have provided them. This is why something has to be done in order to permanently protect the rights of the people. Governments should pass laws to restrict any passing of customer information to third parties, and most importantly, these Internet companies need to learn how to have respect for others.
This is a preview of the whole essay
Discussion and Analysis
- New Functions of Social Networking Sites
Facial recognition technology
A facial recognition system is a for automatically or a from a or a from a source. One of the ways to do this is by comparing selected from the previous images and setting up a facial .
Recently, the famous social networking website, Facebook, announced that they would be implementing facial recognition technology in the tagging function of photos. With this technology applied, the Facebook system could recognize a person’s facial features and save all the data they have collected into a database. The Facebook system can identify the person in any photo with help from information saved in the database and tag the person immediately.
Doubtlessly, the new function can make the tagging process of photos a lot easier. With this new function, Facebook will suggest the person’s name for the human faces it has identified. Users don’t need to spend time on tagging every single photo that he has uploaded, so they might upload more photos as tagging is more convenient now, which might increase the connection between friends.
It seems like this technology is beneficial for everyone. However, we should look deeper and look at its effect on our privacy.
As soon as this technology is applied in Facebook, some privacy issues are raised. Every time a user tags a photo, Facebook will automatically remember the facial feature of the person and save it in its system. Once it has collected an accurate database of every user (several hundred million users), it is not merely a social website, but a searching engine also!
Imagine, anybody on the street could take a picture of a person at anytime, and discover everything about that person just by posting the photo on Facebook and clicking the name that is suggested in order to read his profile. If the database fall into any government, the result may be disastrous. Even if the user have opted out the function, Facebook still gets their facial features from their previous tagged photo, and even photos that they have untagged! This is obvious a horrible consequence that such a “convenient” function may lead to.
Some people may argue that the function actually give users more privacy, more chances of being tagged and discover what photos with their faces shown is posted on Facebook. However, compared to giving your facial features and information to the Facebook system, the latter is more destructive.
Facebook seems to be a safe and personal social platform for users to get connected with friends. But users should be aware of the fact that strangers on the web may gain access to their personal data and misuse it if they don’t handle their personal data carefully. Therefore, users should always pay attention to their privacy setting. First, they should not upload some of their sensitive information to the website, e.g. ID card number, address, daily routine (check-ins), telephone number etc., as these may allow strangers to keep track on their activities with the help of your photos. Secondly, they should be aware of their privacy setting. Users should avoid showing all their posts and photos to the public unless it’s necessary. These two basic measures against privacy infringement could help users to protect their own information from access by strangers.
Facial technology surely does bring us more freedom and convenience in connecting with friends. On the other hand, it infringes our privacy. Therefore, we should always use social networking sites carefully.
Tracking cookies in browsers
Apart from the new functions in social networking sites, tracking cookies also cause public concern on privacy issues.
Tracking cookies are basically used in an exchanging process, for an origin website to send state information (anything that can be accomplished through storing text data on the user's computer) to a user's browser and for the browser to return the state information to the origin site. However, some websites or hackers will use it as spyware in order to track the user’s browsing habits and history, get their account information or even password!
All social networking sites contain cookies for its functions, making sure that you can log in at any time to the social networking site and to sites and services that connect with it and share what you're doing. Without the cookies, you cannot share Youtube links on your Facebook wall!
However, it was found that the cookies are only altered, but not deleted after you logged out. That means even when users are not on the site, the cookies are still tracking your browsing habits, and sometimes sending the information you browse to your Facebook account and posted on your wall. For example, when you are browsing the websites/ using the applications which are connected to the social networking site, it may send the link to your homepage and display it on your homepage without getting your permission. Also, those websites might get our email and information from the social networking site and send advertising email, to the users. Even worse, sometimes cookies may mistakably send your account information and passwords to the social networking system, which infringe our privacy on browsing websites. To avoid this happening, we should log off every time and delete the cookies.
Once again, the tracking cookies of social networking sites show us that how Internet technology could infringe our privacy while giving us the freedom and convenience to be “connected” with friends faraway.
2. Keystroke logging software
This is a software which, when installed in the operating system of the computer, will be able to record information on the activity of the person using the computer. It is a type of spyware when it is written by criminals who want to take control and steal information from the computer user. The software may gain entry to the computer and installed secretly when an email attachment containing the spyware in the form of virus or “trojan” is opened, or when a link to the software is clicked while visiting a website. It can also be installed using a USB key when the criminal has physical access to the computer, even though when the computer is unattended for a few minutes. Information concerning the computer activity such as keystrokes entered, website history, emails sent or received, chat logs etc. can be logged and sent remotely to the criminal through the Internet. The criminal may then be able to extract personal information such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers, login IDs and passwords etc. and use the information for stealing money through Internet banking.
At times, the software may be installed by the owners in their computers deliberately. One less common use is as a recovery tool. If there is accidental data loss, one can use the keystroke records to recover what was typed. Very often, the software is used without the knowledge of the one being monitored. Parents use the software to keep track of their children’s Internet access, filter content, block websites and log chat conversations. Managers might want to monitor the computer activities of their employees with the purpose of analyzing working habits and keep track of computer usage for security. However, companies may be sued for the use of keystroke logging software without the knowledge of the employees.
Nowadays, one only has to search on the Internet to find that there are many commercial keystroke logging softwares available at a cheap price. Companies selling these kind of software have emphasized that no advanced computer knowledge is required to use it. Anyone with adequate computer knowledge can install a keylogger on your computer without your knowing that your activity is being watched from that day onwards. A good keylogger leaves no trace after it's installed; you won't even notice that it's there! No apparent change is noticeable in system performance. Everything looks normal. And before you know it, your account password has been changed and someone else is making a purchase with your credit card data!
As you can see, our privacy in the use of computers and the Internet is not guaranteed. In the past, only a few people with a certain level of computer knowledge were able to monitor their targets’ computer activity. It is quite overwhelming to think that even your parents, your classmates, your boss or your colleagues can easily track what you are doing. Certainly, we must make personal communications throughout the day, whether it is e-mail or Instant Messenger, just as a normal course of our daily lives, sending an email to a friend, or chatting to a classmate about homework, and this particular software would pick up those conversations as well. Are we not allowed to have a life of our own? Must our every action on the Internet be monitored? How could we have freedom of speech but not privacy on the Internet? It's certainly ruthless in its pursuit.
But what about when parents use it as a monitoring tool on their children? Parents might think that this is only a harmless but effective way to ensure children’s safety on the Internet, especially when the kids are young and vulnerable to predators on the net. However, children might think that parents are infringing their privacy. It could even lead to a decline in parent-child relationship once the child realizes that every word he or she types has been recorded and inspected by the parent. Certainly, installing keystroke logging software is not the best way to monitor their children’s computer activity. Instead, parents should educate kids the right attitude when using the Internet, and communicate with their children more often in order to understand them, not just by reading what they type in emails, Facebook posts, or chat conversations.
Moreover, the use of Internet banking and online shopping is becoming more and more commonplace. Dozens of passwords for our various accounts are needed, such as email, Facebook, Instant Messenger, bank accounts, Apple store and Amazon etc. We would suffer great loss when our information is collected easily by others and used for criminal means.
In this case, we have to stay alert for the possibility of being spied upon and take necessary precautions. The computer language or code is beyond the comprehension of normal people so that there is no easy way to detect when our computer has a keystroke logging software installed. Personal vigilance, anti-spying software, or constant improvement in the computer hardware or software technology may help to patch up any loopholes discovered by computer hackers.
3. The inference of the Government on the information that its citizens get
The Internet is a place we all go to, like any mall or plaza. There, we can express our opinions freely and have access to information that we need. However, interference of the government on the information that its citizens get is also seen in different countries. Some countries have state-mandated filtering. For example, in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, the Internet is highly under persuasive censorship and the surfers have a limited access to the Internet.
China is a prime example. It has marked itself out and highly censors and represses the use of the Internet and access to information about sensitive topics in China. When the Internet user requests for a banned website that contains content that the Chinese government disapproves of, a false ‘time-out’ error indication without any explanation appears on the screen and further prevents the user from going to other banned websites. This shows that the Chinese government is highly concerned about what their people read about them on the Internet. When sensitive keywords are typed in search engines, like ‘64’, ‘jasmine’, ‘cultural revolution’ etc., the false error indicator pops up.
The Chinese government highly censors the use of Internet because it knows that power is unimaginable, as it is a common platform for everyone from all over the world to communicate and interact and revolutions against the country can be easily started; it does this because of fear. However, people who live in China don’t know what is happening around them as they know of nothing of the news in China; they are living in ignorance and confusion. Many people in China still don’t know what happened during the 6-4 event, which caused huge international fury and calling to Chinese government to stop political oppression. We have a right to information that is genuine and accurate, and the people who live in China definitely have a right to know the truth about important events that happened in their own country. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it says that ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers’. What the Chinese government is doing seizes away the liberty of citizens.
Google also accuses China of interfering with their Gmail email system, making it impossible for users to send messages, mark messages as unread and access to other services. It says that human rights activists are the main target of China’s attack to Internet freedom. And China also does it quietly without drawing too much attention, contrasting the Middle East.
This is outrageous. What China does violates the rights of its citizens of freedom and privacy. We all have a password for our email accounts, but the prime use of it is lost if the government can just hack into our accounts and control our movement on the Internet. The International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations in 1966 states that ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.’, protecting the privacy of all people on earth.
4. Web Advertisements
Advertisements have been around for a long time. Nowadays in the 21st century, we see advertisements everywhere around us – even on the Internet.
Web advertisements may seem harmless enough, and do not really bother us, but recently, some people are beginning to wonder whether they do infringe our privacy. Ever wondered why whenever you log onto your Gmail account, the advertisements in the ad column correspond to the content of your Gmail? Gmail reads our email and shows us different advertisements that correspond to the content of our emails. Google has a special software called Googlebots, which reads the texts in your email, then identifies relevant keywords in your email and puts the keywords in a cookie. Semi-related advertisements are then fetched from its inventory. Google assures us that they do not share our personal information with advertisers. Although some may say that this infringes on our privacy, some think that this function benefits their users by recommending useful advertisements to users instead of random advertisements. The disadvantage is knowing your emails are being read.
Watching videos on YouTube is a favorite pastime of a lot of people; we have fun just watching random ones. But when you go back to the homepage after a little while, one would see that they have a section called Recommended Videos, showing various videos. Web advertisements may increase our convenience, but they infringe our privacy by tracking our actions.
Rapid technology advancement in the Internet has brought about huge impacts on our daily life. It has greatly improved our communication with each other and with the rest of the world. Our life has been changed greatly: with Internet banking, people do not need to waste time queue up for bank transactions; with Internet shopping we not longer need to travel a long way in order to buy something for our home.
However, these advances are not without a price. In the computer and Internet world, it is our privacy that is at stake. In fact the very time when our computer is connected to the Internet, all the data we send or receive has the potential to be intercepted and retrieved by people other than the one we intended to send, as the data has to travel a long way, mixed with data from other people, through cables shared by various servers before reaching its destination. Our Internet Service Provider, through which we connect to the Internet world will temporarily store the data that we send or receive in its server, thus it is prudent to assume that all our communications, like email, are already accessible by our ISP.
We may also leave information about the websites we have visited, the things that we have just purchased when we browse the Internet in form of tracking cookies. These cookies may infringe on our privacy when they are used to track our browsing habits, our preferences for particular items when we do Internet shopping. Google, a major Internet host has gone so far as to read our emails with a specially designed software to identify keywords in our email so as to send out advertisements that we may be interested in reading.
The new craze of social networking websites like Facebook becomes popular platforms where people can chat with their friends and make new ones. However, Facebook also becomes an important area where we may lose our privacy and personal data. Our identity data such as age, gender and birthday may be exposed to anyone. Also, facial recognition technology, whilst providing convenience for us to tag the photos with the names of our friends, opens a large loophole where people can purposefully get to know everything about us just by seeing our photos on Facebook and clicking our name to read our profile. Moreover, Facebook saves the facial features of people into a database, which might bring undesirable results when fallen into the wrong hands.
The most worrying case is the availability of keystroke logging software which may be installed secretly by other people into the computer without the owner or the user knowing. At times the software is purchased commercially and installed by the owner to monitor children or employee performance.
In some counties, the government can just hack into citizen’s accounts and control their movement on the Internet. The Internet is highly under censorship and the surfers have a limited access to it.
In our research, we have investigated the functions and uses of different technology, as well as their impact on our privacy. It is apparent that the development of computer and Internet technology, while bringing a lot of improvements to our daily life, also bring about negative impacts on our privacy. We may safe guard our privacy by understanding and avoiding the pitfalls where we may lose our personal information in the web. Hopefully, with more powerful computers, more sophisticated software designs and more stringent data handling required of the Internet service provider through proper legislation, we may be able to regulate the storage and dissemination of our personal information through the web.
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