We’re all pretty much sick of hearing about privacy and how it’s all gone away. We’ve overdosed on Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Wikileaks updates. The fact that our information has been compromised isn’t news. If you’ve been paying even a little bit of attention you’d know that every day the companies we know and thought we trusted are changing their privacy policies--and not in our favor.
What's almost as disturbing is the way this issue has been pounded into our heads without there being any solution or recrimination in sight. It's almost as if the NSA is making the point that they can't be stopped; or they're betting that eventually people will get sick of hearing about privacy breaches and simply forget.
First, let's get an overview of how this situation became such tempting pop culture fodder...
Social Media Data Mining
You need only to look as far as Facebook. Facebook is famous for changing its terms, conditions and privacy agreements without telling its users. Every day, the things people do within the Facebook system are becoming more and more public, in spite of users’ working hard to check all of the right boxes to maintain their privacy. The most recent change revokes a person’s right to opt out of public searches.
That’s right: if a person wants to find your Facebook page, they need only to put your name into a search engine. Sure, they might not be able to see the minutiae of your page (yet) but they can see the basic information and verify that the page exists at all.
It might not seem like the hugest deal but what if you’re trying to stay off of someone’s radar? What if you’ve managed to escape a crazy, vindictive and violent spouse? You’ve quit your job, moved to a new town in a new state. You’re on Facebook but your friends and family know not to tag you and you very rarely update your profile—you have the account more to see what everybody else is up to, not to broadcast your own life. With the new privacy settings, your crazy ex can simply plug your name into the search and, though you’ve got him blocked, he can see that you have a page. He can see your city and state.
Facebook has gotten so bad that people have asked the FTC to step in and go over the company’s practices. The company’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg met with commissioners of the agency to start a probe into the ethics and potential violations of a previous privacy settlement the company made with the Commission.
Google is actively working to take away even a hint of privacy for its Gmail users. They claim that a lack of privacy works in concert with the way the company does business. In fact, the motion filed by the company even goes so far as to state “people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient's ECS provider in the course of delivery…”
Even worse—you don’t even have to use Gmail to give Google permission to scan in your messages for their own nefarious purposes. You need only to send a message to a Gmail user. That’s right: Google tracks incoming as well as outgoing messages. If it travels through a Gmail server, Google claims it has the right not just to see what it says but to store what it says so that they can sell that information to advertisers.
According to an article in the Financial Post, Google’s recent security update allows the company to use users’ names, images, reviews, etc in Google’s advertisements without having to first ask for permission or compensate that user in any way. These ads are being called “shared endorsements” by the company.
Think about that: all of that stuff you post on your Google+ page could turn up…anywhere. Your picture could be used anywhere and in any number of ways and forget about being compensated for the use of your image, you might never even know about that it’s happened. *You* no longer get to control who knows what about you.
Sure, sharing a review about this amazing new bakery down the street might not seem like that big a deal but what if you work for a large corporation that, unbeknownst to you, owns stock in a competing confectionary? Suddenly you look like you’re undermining your boss with one of this biggest clients and viola! Because you work at an “at-will” company, you’re fired.
So what can you do? These days having Google+ pages, Facebook pages and other social media accounts is no longer optional. We’re required to have them not just to stay in touch with our friends and families but to promote the agendas of our clients, our employers, etc.
Start by protecting yourself. If you're worried about personal security while you're on the web, you need to make sure that you take strong Internet security measures. The best move is investing in software that not only stops viruses and cookies but helps prevent threats from those hackers whose intent is to steal your information, your passwords, etc. You'll want to use software that blocks any outside intrusions and will remove any back doors, keystroke trackers, and other portals that may have already been set up.
From there, make sure that your privacy settings are as strict as possible and only opt in and give consent to new and updated terms of service that you actually agree with (Google+ allows you to opt out of letting them use your image). Hope like crazy that the FTC will force Facebook to allow you to opt out of what they have decided to change on your behalf.
So, is the privacy question really cliched? Or are we using an echo chamber to immunize ourselves against the loss of our constitutional rights?