By Rick Bretz
Joining a social media site like Facebook is opening the curtains to the big picture window to your life. However, when you pull the draw string to open up the curtains in your home, you can close them back up just as fast anytime you want to keep your life to yourself.
“The right to be left alone”
The World Wide Web is the global communicator and what a user does on it or puts on it is forever, saved on a server somewhere for use on the Wayback Machine. When you click on something you are part of the big industry of data mining and collection that can be parsed, sliced, organized and delivered to businesses and analysts everywhere.
Congratulations! You are part of the modern technological community.
A book published in 1995, authored by Caroline Kennedy and Ellen Alderman, foresaw the future conflict between data protection, data collection and the right to privacy for internet commerce customers.
In the introduction, the authors pointed to a phrase justice Louis D. Brandeis used more than 120 years ago when he called the Right to Privacy, “The right to be left alone.” The question is if you buy something from a vendor website should you have the right to be left alone or should your personal preference data be left alone. If you buy a widget on the internet today you will find widget advertisements pop up on the news websites you visit later on. Is that right? Is that OK. Is that just the way businesses run in the age of information technology? The short answer is “Yes.” Does it give a business the right to do whatever they want with the data? Arguably, “No.”
The authors also correctly point out that the word “Privacy” does not appear anywhere in the United States Constitution. However. one could infer a right to privacy when reading it, especially in reference to the Bill of Rights and its amendments. The important one that comes to mind is the fourth amendment concerning illegal search and seizure.
The current issue being covered by the media involves Facebook and how they treat their data mining and collections of users. The business of selling user data and preferences to other agencies for them to use for other purposes has made Facebook users think twice about continuing to post their thoughts and likes.
One could argue that when someone signs up for Facebook, Instagram or any other social media site you are giving up your right to be “left alone.” What you really want is the ability to selectively let your friends and relatives know what is going on in your life. People are upset today because Facebook is treating their data from the personal lives of users like another commodity, like selling computer hardware on the open market.
In the Kennedy and Alderman book, the authors were ahead of their time when discussing issues associated with personal rights concerning this issue. Their topics included, Privacy and Your Self, Privacy Versus the Press, Privacy and Law Enforcement and Privacy in the Workplace
The book discusses the Fourth Amendment, in particular concerning a law enforcement case. The book explains that this amendment states “a right of the people to be secure in the persons, houses, papers and affects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” The book further explains that the Supreme Court has interpreted the amendment as protecting an individual’s “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
The question remains, if you join a social media site, should you presume a reasonable expectation of privacy. Today information technology, web use, and data collection and analysis generate effective business practices and customer satisfaction. It’s the reason a consumer can order something from the internet from a vendor and be assured that product will be available to be sent to customers the same or next day. Data mining and collection can be used to effectively manage a business or negatively effect a user as when businesses sell their data to other companies or when black hat hackers steal the data and sell it or hold it for ransom.
Most universities have an Information Technology ethics course as part of their curriculum for computer science graduates. The “Do No Harm” philosophy can be followed or not. As with any instrument of technology, if put in the wrong hands, the potential for damage increases.
Businesses have a legal and ethical responsibility to protect data. Data that can personally identify someone should be protected with a special effort. Personal Health Information (PHI) and Personal Identifiable Information (PII) like social security numbers, phone numbers and addresses are gold to black hat hackers who want to ransom the data. Experts in the field of information security will tell you there are millions of instances everyday where hackers try to exploit vulnerabilities in commercial and government networks to get user data. The good news is most of them are thwarted by perimeter security technologies. The bad news is it only takes one attack that defeats these measures to mess things up. Consumers don’t need companies selling their data and spreading it elsewhere to add to the challenge of safeguarding user information. Protecting data and personal privacy should be important to an individual and to everyone who sees it.