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Impact of Technology on Privacy

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  • 0:05 What is Privacy?
  • 1:18 Electronic Surveillance
  • 2:38 Personal Info
  • 5:31 Cookies & Spyware
  • 7:25 Workplace Monitoring
  • 9:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jill Heaney

Jill has taught college-level business and IT. She has a Doctorate in Business Administration and an M.S. in Information Technology & Leadership.

Technology has a number of social and ethical implications that cause debate and concern. One specific issue is privacy. Information technology has opened up society and decreased privacy. This lesson will explore a number of privacy issues that are of concern, including electronic surveillance, availability of personal information, cookies and spyware, and workplace monitoring.

What is Privacy?

Have you ever Googled your name? What did you find out about yourself? Like many people, you may have been a bit surprised about the information that could be obtained about you through a simple Internet search. Information technology has opened up society and decreased privacy. Privacy continues to diminish as technological innovation progresses.

Privacy is the right to be left alone and free from surveillance and unreasonable personal intrusions. Information privacy is the right to determine when and to what extent information about oneself can be communicated to others. This applies to individuals, groups, and institutions. Privacy can be interpreted quite broadly, which contributes to the debate concerning privacy expectations and availability of personal information. However, the following two rules have been followed fairly closely in past court decisions in many countries: the right of privacy is not absolute and must be balanced against the needs of society, and the public's right to know is superior to the individual's right of privacy. These two rules reveal why it is difficult in some cases to determine and enforce privacy regulations.

There are a number of privacy issues that are of concern, including electronic surveillance, availability of personal information, cookies and spyware, and workplace monitoring.

Electronic Surveillance

Detective Brown and Detective Smith are staking out a building located in a bad part of town. Their beat up van sits inconspicuously along the street, giving nothing away about whom they are or why they are there. The detectives are gathering information through electronic surveillance to take down an organized crime ring that has wreaked havoc on the city and contributed to the rise in crime.

Electronic surveillance involves monitoring people with technology, often without their knowledge. Video recordings, photography, and audio recordings are common electronic surveillance techniques.

Detectives Brown and Smith photograph everyone going in and out of the suspect building. They will use the photographs to identify the key players in the crime ring. They have also planted cameras and audio devices within the building to capture conversations and keep a real-time watch on the movements within the building. All of this information is recorded from the van and saved to build a strong case.

Electronic surveillance is used in banks, stores, and other businesses
Electronic Surveillance

You don't have to be a criminal to come in contact with electronic surveillance. We are all likely to encounter various forms of electronic surveillance throughout the day. Some communities use video surveillance to catch those who violate traffic laws. You may receive a ticket in the mail for running a red light or failing to pay a toll. When you go to the bank, withdraw money from the ATM, or enter your local convenience store, you are probably being recorded on video. Your apartment building or workplace may be equipped with video surveillance to discourage crime and assist in resolving crimes if they do occur.

Personal Information

The house next door to you has just been sold. Your new neighbor moves in. He is a middle aged man who keeps to himself and does not appear to be very friendly. He keeps odd hours and comes across as very strange. Your attempts to welcome him to the neighborhood have failed since he never answers the door. You wonder about him and find your mind getting carried away with all the possibilities. You wish you had more information to go on.

You probably wouldn't go to the trouble of scouring city hall documents, rooting through his trash, or tracking down friends and relatives to interview. However, if you could spend a few minutes searching the World Wide Web for information, there is a much greater chance you would snoop around. Wouldn't you? With information technology, it is relatively simple to find personal information on anyone you wish, including your new neighbor.

A variety of information on individuals is kept in databases. These databases house information, such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, medical histories, family histories, and more. Practically every organization has a database full of information on everyone they do business with. The concern with this is whether or not they should be collecting this information, what they will do with it, how secure it is, how accurate it is, and who it can be sold to. Personal data is increasingly made available in online databases, which can be accessed by search engines.

You decide to jump on the Internet and conduct a Web search to learn more about your neighbor. You discover his age, his birth date, his previous addresses, employment, and much more. You learn that he moved from another state after his wife passed away due to an automobile accident. He took a new job in the area as a commercial pilot, which is why he never seems to be home and keeps odd hours. You also discovered how much he paid for his house and that he ran a 5K race in 27 minutes and 33 seconds last year. Now, you feel better about your new neighbor and decide maybe he isn't so weird after all.

The question that concerns some is should personal information, like we discussed, be so readily available to the public? The availability of personal information shows no signs of slowing. In fact, courts and government agencies at all levels are increasingly making public records available online. Some find it troubling given the sensitive information contained in the available documents. For instance, someone filing for bankruptcy must disclose their social security number, their bank and credit card numbers, account balances, and even children's names and ages.

Personal information put online increases identity theft risks
Personal Info Examples

One of the fastest growing crimes has been identity theft. Identity theft is the stealing of another person's social security number, credit card number, or other personal information for the purpose of borrowing money, making purchases, and running up debts. In some cases, thieves even withdraw cash directly from the victim's bank account. Since many private organizations and governments keep information about individuals in accessible databases, there is an endless opportunity for thieves to retrieve it and misuse the information.

Cookies and Spyware

Amy jumps on the Internet from her home computer and goes to Amazon.com. She is automatically recognized by the website. In fact, it says, 'Hello Amy' in the upper right-hand corner of the Web page. On the top left side of the screen, she can click on Amy's Amazon.com, and it takes her to her own personalized page of recommended products based on past purchases and searches. How does Amazon.com know so much about Amy?

Websites can easily monitor consumer behavior without knowledge or consent. Vendors can track the movements of consumers with the use of cookies. Cookies are small data files that are written and stored on the user's hard drive by a website when that user visits the site with a browser. The cookie provide information within the website on pages visited, items examined, dates of visits, and even passwords. This information is stored in the cookie and sent back to the company.

An even more intrusive technology is spyware. Spyware is a small computer program, stored on the user's hard drive, that collects user's habits and transmits that information to a third party, all without the user's consent. Spyware can monitor any website visited by the user, whereas cookies are specific to a particular website. Spyware can be installed when a user downloads software, especially freeware or shareware. A very common way to fall victim to spyware is by downloading peer-to-peer file swapping products. Spyware also steals from the user by using up computer memory and consuming bandwidth. Since spyware uses memory and system resources, it can cause crashes and instability with your computer system.

The reason that companies wish to gather so much consumer information is for targeted marketing and advertising. It is much more effective to send a user an advertisement specific to their likes rather than just a general advertisement. Companies value detailed information because they believe it enhances their capability to predict consumer preferences and behavior.

Workplace Monitoring

Examples of workplace monitoring programs used by employers
Workplace Monitoring Programs

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