Stop letting the world know so much about who you are, where you are, who you’re with, what you’re doing, what food just you’ve eaten at which restaurant, what song you’re listening to and what video you’re watching, what concerts you’re going to, what articles you’ve read, what links you’ve clicked on, etc. It’s not so much that I care about what you’re doing. (I don’t.) It’s not even that your future employer cares about your Internet activities. (They probably won’t.) There is a greater lurking danger to this sort of behavior, especially as of late.
Internet privacy is getting harder to keep a hold on. And I don’t just mean the privacy settings on your Facebook account. I mean the multitude of ways that every move you make on the Internet is being tracked, monitored, stored.
Most people don’t even disable Google tracking. Many don’t even know it’s there. Don’t think that just clearing the Internet history on your browser does much. Google’s unified private policy tracks your web browsing history and even shares it with other Google products. Sure, you get custom advertising, but when Google figures out what age range you are, what gender, what your interests are and even where you live — and trust me, without opting out it does — then it becomes a bit invasive.
The invasion of your Internet privacy goes beyond your personal computer and to your ever present smartphone. An MIT study by Frances Zhang and Fuming Shih found that some of the apps on your smartphone are tracking your behavior, even when you’re not using the apps. Something seemingly innocuous like Angry Birds is collecting data on you, even when you’re not knocking little birds and buildings down. Zhang and Shih found that on the Android operating system, Angry Birds constantly tracks your location and that another game, Bowman, collects information on which sites you’ve been visiting online.
Why track your users? Well, the obvious reason is to provide you and me with custom advertisements. But there’s no reason to collect information beyond that, to track your position when you’re not playing. And tracking Internet history, in my opinion, goes too far. Especially in times where the data of, say, 12 million iOS users has been released.
But why should we care? The danger is two-fold. First, you have companies, advertisers, even governments, tracking your behavior and patterns without your consent. This isn’t like scrolling without reading to the bottom of a terms and conditions agreement and clicking “I accept”; at least we knowingly do that. We don’t know what will, does or can happen with this information.
As Internet activist Eli Pariser tells us, there is a layer of hidden statisticians, data analysts, programmers, psychologists and marketers collecting information about us, interpreting the data, marketing to us in unimaginable ways. As another example, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service is supposedly investing in spam bots that, as Kevin Morris of The Daily Dot writes, “will launch a three-tiered program meant to both study how information spreads online and create tools for automatically disseminating state propaganda on forums, blogs and social media, according to a report in the Kommersant newspaper.” By allowing them this kind of information, we are voluntarily exposing ourselves to the manipulation of marketing and propaganda schemes. This is far more easily accomplished when we willingly give up information about ourselves and our Internet activities.
The second danger is in the gray area that is the constitutional protection of your Internet activities. More than ever, we are seeing government seizure and use of citizens’ Internet information and activities, despite efforts from sites like Twitter and Wikipedia to maintain your privacy. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, recently told The Times newspaper, “In Britain, like in the U.S., there has been a series of bills that would give government very strong powers to, for example, collect data. I am worried about that.” We are seeing a constant back and forth as to what should and should not remain private, what is constitutional and what is not. Realistically, for everyday browsing, most of us won’t take the time to personally protect ourselves against this type of “draconian legislation.” But these are issues of which we certainly need to remain aware, about which we need to be vocal.
There are a few simple things that every one of us can do, at least to send the message that we care about Internet privacy. First, we need to stop connecting every aspect of our lives to the Internet, willingly giving up information about where we are, what we are doing, who we are with, etc. Also, start using easy browser extensions such as Do Not Track and Disconnect, which will start limiting third party access to your Internet history. Opt out of tracking options. These are just starters; there’s much more you can do beyond this. There’s certainly more discussion to be had on the topic. But I think we can and should start protecting ourselves. Internet privacy is too valuable to simply sit back and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Internet privacy will slip away if we don’t actively fight for it. And that has the potential to be disastrous.
Kinnari Shah is a Chemical and Biological Engineering major from Washington, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/13/31079/