Internet can be said as the most significant invention of the century. It simplified many annoying processes such as banking and shopping into one simple step that can be achieved at home. Nevertheless, there are some drawbacks. The control of one s personal data on net is not as easy as in real life. Technologies on net can make tracking one s behaviors and interests without asking for permissions possible. In other words, World Wide Web users may be monitored by someone they do not know. In what ways our personal data are leaked out and whether Internet and privacy can finally co-exist peacefully?
According to Reconciling E-commerce and Privacy in Business Week of 10/05/1998, there are web sites that force the users to give out their personal data such as your name, email address, demographic information, marriage and financial status, interests, hobbies and so on while registering their products. These data will be sold or given to their marketing partners without asking the users for permission. According to the passage No Such Things as privacy in Report / Newsmagazine (Alberta Edition) of 02/28/2000 Vol. 26, the emails people gives to newsgroups and business web sites may be sold to spammers , those who send lots of advertisement messages through email to users, especially for some pornographic sites. It may cause extra time for the users to filter these garbage mails .
In addition to the information gathered from registration of products and newsgroups, commercials interested in these information uses incentives. In the passage of It s free, but it ll cost you in Black Enterprise September 1999 Vol. 30, the author suggests that there are companies provides free computers and free Internet services. Examples are FreePC and Netzero. The users, in return, have to give out their personal information. They have to promise that they will face the advertisements shown on the computers for certain number of hours a month for a certain number of months. Their activities on the computer such as software installed and the website browsed are logged and are sent to the companies providing such services. Advertisements are shown on the user s screen when the user uses the free Internet services provided. According to the article Click for Free in American Demographics of February 1999 Volume 21, Netzero provides interactive advertising for their clients, which means that the advertisement will be shown on the screen only when the user of the free internet service is accessing some material related to the advertisement. The companies are thus able to advertise the products according to the users need.
According to Dangerous New Privacy Threat: IP Addresses! in Inter@active Week, Intel, the manufacturer of one of the leading processors (so called the brain of a computer), put a Processor Identification Code (PID) into each of the Pentium III. The code can be read electronically on net. Microsoft, the biggest software company in the World, integrated a Globally-Unique Identification (GUID) into each of the Microsoft Word Documents generated by their software. Both of these companies claim that this kind of new features will make the transmission of data on the net more intelligent and give a push to the e-commerce on the net by providing a more secure and convenient way to identify the users. However, controversialists suggest that these are violation of privacy. Users cannot keep their track on net secret to others. This is obvious and undoubtful to say that it is a serious threat to individual s privacy on the net.
Furthermore, users of the World Wide Web are not informed that they have left our track on net for others to track, according to Privacy Online: The FTC Must Act Now in Business Week of November 29,1999. When a user browses a web page of a company, he or she may not be noticed that a piece of file has been downloaded to his or her computer. That piece of file is called cookie . It contains the information of the user regarding to the favor of the company, such as the pages of the books the user has watched for a bookseller, the place that the user go online, the length of the time the user went online and so on. The company can thus provide some convenient and amazing facilities when the user browses the page again such as pre-typed information. However, on the other hand, the data may not be used by the company that issues the cookie only. The advertisement server may also access this piece of file to deliver advertisements according to the user s interest. Thus, one s interest and behavior will be revealed by anymore interested.
Besides the personal information gathered by companies in various ways, email privacy is also one of the controversial issues. Stated in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 (sourced from A study of individual s ethical beliefs and perceptions of electronic mail privacy in Journal of Business Ethics ), the interception of electronic mails by a third party outside the company are prohibited. However, the law is enforced only for those emails outside the company, while the law does not protect the mails flowing inside the company system. According to The myth of E-mail privacy in Fortune dated 02/03/1997 volume 135, most networks in the company system stores backup of the mails that passes through the system. Deleting mails means nothing. The contents of the mails are exposed to the others without one s permissions. The information thus cannot be exposed according to the users willingness.
Security holes in the current computer operating system may also be a source of privacy leakage. Hackers may access the user s hard drive data through these security holes. They can access the files, and they can even destroy the computer they hacked in. It is all out of the control of the user of the Internet.
It is a cruel fact that we do not have guaranteed privacy on the net. It is clear that we must change this kind of culture on net in order to make Internet and privacy co-exist peacefully possible. Keeping anonymous is the basis according to the article Reconciling E-commerce and privacy . Users should have the options to choose whether to give their data out or to keep their privacy, instead of being tracked secretly. The data the users provided must be used in the way that the user is well informed. Instead of enacting laws, education will do a better job there. Users should be taught how to keep their personal data secured while the company holders should be taught what the morality of business is.
However, that is a rather optimistic point of view. In the meantime, users have to protect themselves from the threats on net. According to the article No Such thing as Privacy , Colin Bennett, a University of Victoria political science professor, stated that there are many ways for users of the Internet to keep themselves away from leakage of privacy. Cookie is one of the main sources for the leakage. Most of the modern Internet browsers can let the users to disable cookies. And there is software in the market provided for users to defend themselves from the hackers attacks. There are web pages teaching people how to protect themselves and users should go to these pages to have a look at the issue.
The exposure of the email contents is also a violation of one s privacy in the company. Employees of the company can buy or download some software that encrypts the email they sent. The author of The Myth of Email Privacy suggests that this method is not as brilliant as it seems to. Encryption technology nowadays restricts the users to use the some program for the mail s sender and receiver. Furthermore, it may increase the suspicion of the employer when he or she read an encrypted mail from his or her employees.
In conclusion, the privacy is being seriously threatened on net. Companies are trying every method to gather the personal information of each of their customers. The users of their services must have a good knowledge of how their information will be used by the company and should not give out their information without regarding the matters. The problem cannot be solved unless the companies and the users are taught such that they will take the issue into a serious account. And then privacy and Internet can co-exist peaceful finally and the use of Internet will be moved to a much more delightful era.