EHS’ take on internet privacy and protection
May 18, 2018
Living in the digital age, we often tend to fall into the safety net that our security is guaranteed. However, several mass security breaches speak otherwise, yet it seems that most citizens tend to ignore them altogether. Read writers Eva Hadjiyanis, Kerui Yang, and Theo Teske dive into how valid internet privacy really is:
Americans ignore countless security breaches in favor of social media usage
In the age of technology, people share their personal information with countless companies. Whether it is a clothing store that asks for an email to send discounts, or a FitBit tracker that counts the number of steps one takes, people willingly disclosing their information in return for services. But as the risks that go along with this bargain come to light, internet users are beginning to wonder if it is too late to recover the privacy they have lost.
Internet privacy is one of the most hotly debated topics right now, but what exactly is it? Online privacy is the ability to control what information about oneself is on the internet, and who can access said information. As the 21st Century pushes forward, people are used to being told that in order to receive a service online they must disclose personal information about themselves, and many do it without a second thought. “I always give out my email if it means that I’m gonna get a discount” senior Peter Holmquist said. The question of the generation is: when does the disclosure of private information cross the line?
The most common way for people to connect online is through social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts. A common trait in these platforms is the way that each person tells the story of their daily life to their friends or followers. Although people have the option to make their accounts “private” so they can control who can see their posts, the platforms have access to all of the profiles. The ability to share one’s life online has led to data which is impossible to delete, opening up the opportunity for online fraud.
The infamous example of corruption and fraud via social media platforms is the Facebook scandal, where around 87 million users’ personal information was shared with a British analytics firm. Cambridge Analytica, the firm, then used this information for political reasons after claiming to be collecting the information for academic purposes. This scandal has led to the takeoff of the idea that people should delete Facebook, although most users are not taking such action.
This scandal is just the beginning: digital footprints lead to many other breaches of privacy and opportunities for exploitation. One example of this is the targeted advertisement seen on big websites. Social media platforms, in particular, have admitted to taking users’ information and creating a system to advertise products that they are more likely to buy. On a different note, more and more people are becoming victims of identity fraud because criminals are able to gain access to their information. According to NBC (2016), “Identity thieves, who commit financial fraud with stolen account information, had a banner year in 2016. These fraudsters successfully hit a record 15.4 million Americans — up 16 percent from 2015.” In an age where the public wants easy online shopping, the consequence is that their information can be stolen or used against them. This benefits corporations and criminals, but is detrimental to the individual and their privacy.
Even though these downsides are apparent and relatively well known, especially after the Facebook scandal, most people are not likely to stop giving away their information. In the end, compromising one’s privacy is seen as “worth it” in order to be an active member of the globalization and technological advances of the digital age. The tradeoff has already been made, people have already given away their information in return for the ability to interact with others. Now that nearly every American uses internet services, people are reliant on them and not likely to stop giving away their information. “It’s too late now to stop. I already gave away my information, so it’s out there. I’m going to keep enjoying the useful benefits that come with the price of my birthday or email address” junior Kathleen Scoggin said.
EHS students weigh in on the top ten data privacy breaches of the 21st century
Sony CD Spyware (2005). In the fall of 2015, Sony was accused of sending user information, such as their music and the IP address of their device, to themselves whenever someone played a CD on their laptop or PC.
Student Response: “I believe that it is a big issue because, without your consent, they should not be able to gather that information,” sophomore Zoe Lelas said.
Google Street View (2007). In 2007, Google got into trouble for invasion of privacy by allowing other people to see people leaving strip clubs, bookstores containing adult books, and engaging with prostitutes.
Student Response: “I know people would say that it would an invasion of privacy, but since it’s more of a criminal act, some would say, I think that people should be aware of it,” junior Maria Crudden said.
Hotmail Breach (2009). In 2009, Hotmail was in hot water when it encouraged its users to change their account passwords after having 10,000 users’ private information stolen and posted online.
Student Response: “I would definitely report it, I would definitely not be happy. Not just for my own privacy safety, but also for the safety of everyone else whose privacy has been breached. I think it’s a very serious thing when data breaches occur. Not just to one person, but everyone else around them as well,” sophomore John Santrizos said.
Webcamgate (2010). In 2010, a school was sued for using the webcams on the school supplied laptops as a way to monitor students’ usage of the devices. However, these webcams also took many pictures of students in their private bedrooms while changing clothing.
Student Response: “I would be very upset because I feel like the school has the power obviously over us and was not using it for good. If you have power, you can use it for good or bad, and they took it too far,” junior Erika Jank said.
HealthNet privacy breach (2011). In 2011, HealthNet was sued because nearly two million of its users’ names, addresses, Social Security numbers, health information, and financial data were exposed.
Student Response: “That’s not good and I would not trust the internet and have all the accounts open. I would be insecure about how much I would be on the internet. They should definitely be held accountable because that’s a lot of people’s personal information,” senior Savanna Atol said.
iPhone problem (2011). Steve Jobs openly apologized to the public in 2011 for a file in iPhones that stored all of the places its user visited within the last twelve months.
Student Response: “Well, I really value privacy, and so when it’s violated I feel like I’m violated. It really depends on the person but I’d say it’s the person first, it’s the customer. Therefore, privacy comes first when it comes to business,” sophomore William Davis said.
Sony Playstation (2011). In the spring of 2011, Sony announced that more than two million of PlayStation users’ names, addresses, email addresses, birthdates, and possibly even their credit card information was stolen.
Student Response: “Playing games is just something you want to do to relax and have fun. But using that against your own privacy, that’s terrible and huge breach against your life,” junior Likhitha Kancherla said.
Voicemail Hacking (2011). After “News of the World,” a publication for the News Corps’ weekly U.K., was found to have hacked the voicemails of countless politicians, celebrities, and crime victims for tabloid information, it was forced to stop writing articles and shut down.
Student Response: “I would not be happy because that’s a huge invasion of privacy and definitely not okay. They should not be able to do that.” Sophomore Arianna Paulson said.
NSA Snowden (2013). In June 2013, the Guardian reported that the NSA had been tapping into the servers of nine huge internet companies, including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Facebook. They later revealed their informant was Edward Snowden, a former CIA analyst.
Student Response: “I would be very disappointed and sad because they shouldn’t be able to take my information and it’s just not fair. I should have some privacy, even on the internet,” junior Stefan Gullickson said.
Cambridge Analytica (2018).In 2016, Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm, was hired by Trump’s presidential campaign to provide information on potential voters. However, earlier this year the New York Times detailed how Cambridge Analytica accessed the private information of more than 50 million Facebook users. They used this information to provide the Trump campaign knowledge about the personalities of the electorate and ways to influence their votes.
Student Response: “That’s not right. The invasion of privacy doesn’t seem very fair. They shouldn’t be going into users’ personal data just for an election. I don’t think that’s morally right. That also just changes everything because they can just campaign towards specific people,” junior Anders Freeland said.
Four steps to take to protect your information and digital privacy
In light of the many scandals involving breaches of internet privacy, it’s more crucial than ever to protect your information and digital activity. Fortunately, there are many easy ways to do this.
First, always make sure your password is complex and unique but doesn’t contain any personal information. Using anything like your Social Security number, Personal Identification Number, or credit card number as a password is extremely risky. If hackers are able to obtain your password, they are simultaneously given that crucial information.
Second, consider using a VPN, or Virtual Private Network. Popular Science explains that these can be installed on a device, like a laptop, and will encrypt the data from the device. They can also hide the IP address and virtual behavior on the device from anything attempting to track these, such as cookies.
Third, make sure that any website you visit which handles sensitive information has HTTPS. Any website with HTTPS is secure; this means that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can’t see what you’re doing on that website. In fact, the browser extension HTTPS Everywhere created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation makes every website you visit secure, so installing that extension is a good way to protect your privacy.
Fourth, consider blocking third-party cookies. These are cookies (which track your activity) planted by sources besides a website you actually visit. This is an easy way for people with nefarious intentions to see which websites you are visiting and what you are doing on them. Disabling third-party cookies is an option that can be enabled in your browser.
If you follow all of these steps, you will be able to rest easier knowing your internet privacy is secure.