According to Baron, privacy issues associated with the internet range from the use of personal information provided to electronic business sites, to the use of Web bugs that record who visits personal Web pages (Baron, 2010, P 418). Web sites place “cookies”, which is a computer file, with a unique identification system, on a user’s computer. The “cookie” is initially beneficial in that it helps users log onto frequently visited sites, but can also be used to track activity without the user’s knowledge. Spyware and adware are the next version of tracking technologies. Adware programs are placed on a user’s computer and can track information, including each click a user makes while surfing the internet. Spyware is a secret program that goes beyond adware and collects personal information such as passwords and credit card information. Today, “privacy on the internet is a technology race”, with those on both sides of the competition developing new strategies and technology to counter the other’s (Baron, 2010, P 418).
Privacy advocates focus on the rights of the individuals over the benefits. Those advocates also propose that those rights need not be established by government, but are created by moral principle. According to Baron, some privacy advocates argue that an individual’s privacy is protected by property rule. This would imply that a person’s individual privacy should not be infringed without that person’s consent. In terms of internet privacy, Baron defines three basic principles; the right to know, choice, and to be free from arbitrary treatment. This assumption, that privacy is a right, places duties and responsibility on companies that interface with their customers via the internet (Baron, 2010, P 418).
In the United States, internet privacy has primarily been accomplished by self-regulation, as the internet companies have developed their own privacy protocols and created independent organizations designed to certify those policies (Baron, 2010, P 418). Although there has been no federal legislation establishing basic internet privacy rights, a variety of bills have been introduced in Congress. Business has generally opposed these measures as unneeded and claimed them potentially harmful to continued development of the internet (Baron, 2010, P 421). The principle reason that the US government has not enacted internet privacy protection legislation is the claim that self-regulation is working.
The European Union has taken a different approach to internet privacy. It enacted the European Union Data Protection Directive, providing strong privacy protection for all personally identifiable information (PII). Additionally, companies are not allowed to transfer PII outside the European Union unless the recipient country provides “adequate” protection. In summary, the EU has developed an “opt-in” standard while the U.S. has relied on the user to “opt-out” (Baron, 2010).
We live in an ever increasingly digital age and the reality is that the average American now relies on the internet to interface with their banks, employer, physician, family, friends, and a host of other stakeholders. The complex nature of the internet, coupled with the necessity to use the internet for activities of daily living, has created great potential for PII to be gathered and used inappropriately. It appears that this trend for internet usage will only continue to increase, so the risk will also increase. Since the EU strategy for internet privacy is the most conservative, it would be my preference for implementation in the United States. I believe that concealment should not be the goal of internet privacy and that instead we should attempt to achieve a process that allows a person the ability to control disclosure of their PII, without fear that someone else is using it without their permission.
About the Author
Jerry Landers is the Vice President of Business Development for Aspire Indiana. While the beliefs and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mr. Landers you can learn more about community mental health and how it intersects with business and media at http://www.facebook.com/AspireIndiana
Baron, D. (2010), Business and Its Environment (6th ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Buzzle.com, (2012), Ethical Issues of Internet Privacy, Retrieved from http://www.buzzle.com/articles/ethical-issues-of-internet-privacy.html