"There is a choice to be made between technologies of surveillance and technologies of privacy. One promises to collect vast amounts of personal information and track your movements and activities. The other promises anonymity, security and the protection of your privacy. ..." (Cavoukian and Tapscott, 1997: p.176.) Critically discuss these choices.
According to Roger Clarke, Surveillance is “the systematic investigation or monitoring of the actions or communications of one or more persons.” (Clarke, p 499; 1988) There are three types of surveillance: physical surveillance (watching and listening), personal surveillance (watching a specific person) and mass surveillance (watching people in groups). (Clarke, p 499; 1988) and of course there is the ‘latest’, which is used by ISPs and websites as well as marketers in both online and offline worls -- online surveillance.
Surveillance can be conducted using a number of ways. Visual and aural surveillance, remotely in space, binoculars, satellite cameras, image and sound recording devices, computers, telephone interception (bugging), collection of data online, cookies, spyware and multiple other ways are used to conduct physical, personal, mass and online surveillance.
All these do not necessarily invade a person’s privacy, at least not until something is done with the collected information. For example, any website people will go to logs their Internet Protocol address in order to monitor traffic; the IP address, when ran through a special tool, can tell a lot about the person behind the address; such as phone number, Internet Service Provider, e-mail address, home address. Sometimes webmasters look through the IP addresses to identify web bots, spiders and maybe potential hackers. However webmasters are not invading anyone’s privacy because even though they do have the information in front of them; they aren’t doing anything with it! It is similar to yellow/white/blue pages that have people’s phone numbers, addresses and the like; do these invade someone’s privacy just because they have been printed? Not necessarily, and with the advance of computer technology; finding someone’s personal details is quite simple if you know where to look and determined people normally do know where to look.
As Marie Wright points out: “Information linked to individual persons was one difficult to find…Now, such information is readily accessible and collectible through the use of automated search facilities” (Wright and Kakalik, p 22; 1997) With the advances of technology, finding information on any user requires less effort; just enter a few words into the search engine and voila! You can get the person’s full life story right there in front of you and the person will never know it.
Many consumers are being fooled by the fact that they have ‘complete’ privacy online; there is no such thing as complete *OR* privacy online if the consumer is not taking any steps to protect himself/herself from potential nosy governments, and greedy companies who care about profit and nothing else. There is no such thing as complete privacy with the technologies out there now. Yes there are tools out there to make it for the people harder to gain access to your personal data, but it is not impossible to keep your details totally private; besides the government at least ONE perpetrator out there has your complete details and personal data – your ‘best friend’, the Internet Service Provider.
As an example, I put Etisalat, the United Arab Emirates’ only ISP; they claim they have the world’s best filters installed to filter out spam and the like; I never gave my e-mail address to anyone but people I talk to face-to-face; so why is it I’m getting 100+ spam messages a day amongst the less than 10 messages that I actually need to reply to? Meanwhile, Hotmail, which is free, gets 10-15 e-mail messages of spam compared to Etisalat’s e-mail (for which I have to pay on a monthly basis) and I did not even have to tinker with the filters. Yes, Etisalat, great filters; now turn them *ON* and stop selling my address to people who think I need to lose weight and buy Viagra! (Which I don’t, in both cases!)
There are companies out there that keep databases of every single person who has/had access to the Internet. What do they do with the information? They sell it! In the end, forget what the consumer things, spit on ethics and the like, but if the database makes the company more money then the company will sell it to a third-party with no second thoughts. And why not sell it? After all: what the consumer does not know will not kill him. Whatever the buyer will do with the data is not the company’s problem; but it often ends up the consumer who has to deal with the consequences of having their personal data sold to a third party without their knowledge. What is more outrageous is that some companies ‘rent’ out the e-mail lists to third-party companies who then send spam and the like to the addresses and sell the addresses onto another company or two. Privacy, what privacy? Privacy “is a complex and controversial topic, especially in light of the increased capabilities of Internet information collection” (Hiller and Cohen, p 101; 2002) It is much easier to take something off the Internet and pass it as your own, or to gather information off the Internet rather than going to the library and leafing through multitude of books. That is the attitude of a lot of children newly introduced to the Internet, “it’s on the computer, it’s no ones, I can take it and pass it as my own” surprisingly some parents do not know any better either.
Another invasion on the privacy is spyware, which is used for surveillance. Spyware software is alarmingly invasive. It can be slipped onto an unsuspecting victim’s computer disguised as a simple e-mail, or even a greeting card or a game that can be downloaded for free off of a website such as the MSN GameZone. Once installed, it is virtually undetectable by the naked eye. Even virus protection software — or the best-laid security plans — usually will not spot it. It never asks you to download any attachments or answer any questions; it just automatically installs itself on your system and you continue working without suspecting a thing. Once it is on your system, it can tip someone off to everywhere you visit on the Internet, every e-mail you write, every password you enter, and even every key you type in on your keyboard.
You're being watched everywhere you go... at home, at work, at school, outside. There's no escaping from it and it's very hard to fight it if they do not tell you that you are being watched. That is the whole point of surveillance! A lot of people would react differently if they were aware of the fact that they are being watched. I am positive that a lot of people would not download pornography from KaZaA and the like if their parents/spouses were watching them; okay maybe a number would join in, who knows with this messed up society we live in.
Another thing is profit, if marketing people tell you that you are being watched, a lot of people will demand a cut from the profits of a certain product that they have been seen using and the marketers advertise using the charts and graphs gathered from the surveys online upon unsuspecting consumers. Companies want to save money that way. Truth is, every time you use your credit card, every time you go shopping and buy something, that information is collected somewhere without your knowledge; that counts as a surveillance technology to me! And what do the companies do with it? Once you get a telemarketing call or two asking you to buy a similar product you bought a year ago online using your credit card, here is the answer to the above posed question.
The average consumer does not know better, most of the consumers are young children and adults who were introduced to the world of the Internet not long ago; most have the “no one can see me type hence they do not know it is me” attitude. Others think the Internet is a virtual reality of sorts, so the second they get offline, whatever happened online did not happen in real life and therefore does not exist. Companies take advantage of that and because of the fact that almost everyone who’s anyone in the societies around the word use computers, it is easy and less costly for companies to gather data for their little (or big) marketing ploys.
Whilst the consumers use software, browse sites; use e-mail, etc, they are being watched by various things online and offline. The computer user is constantly being watched by spyware, tracking cookies as well as back door Trojans and other mobile malicious code. All that happens without the consumer knowing about it. Do they ask you before installing themselves onto your computer? When you're installing KaZaA they ask! But who actually reads the license agreement, right?! You just click "yes, I agree. Whatever" and it starts installing your KaZaA, as well as spyware which spies on you whilst you're surfing the web even if KaZaA isn't launched. And if you decide to get rid of KaZaA, the spyware stays to continue it’s job. That's the sort of thing that invades privacy, and most people are not aware of it; what is the problem if they can get the free MP3 or movie downloaded onto their machine before it comes out on the market? Some think spyware and the like is no big deal, mostly because “hey I can’t see the dang thing, so who cares?” That is the sort of naiveté that the ‘bad’ guys play on. Here’s a thought: While you are looking at your computer, it may be looking back at you.
All right, there is also the theft of money online, fraud, and the like. And what is the easiest way to get consumer information? Just ask them! Simple, but it works most of the time. As Kevin Mitnick points out in his book ‘The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security’: “the human factor is the security’s weakest link.” (Mitnick, p.3, 2002) So is it really the technology people should be blaming, when in fact the technology is only as good (or bad) as the hands that control it?
The governments’ claim that your privacy will be protected is a big joke; one that many citizens fall for easily. In truth, “There is no privacy. There is no safeguarding of privacy,” says Keith Krasnove, a private investigator for more than 30-years. (MSNBC.com, Nov 13) Until they start searching for answers long enough to realize that in the current times, privacy is slowly disappearing as the technology progresses. The truth is that the government knows much more about consumers than they let on. As James Gleick tells the reader in his book ‘What just happened: a chronicle from the information frontier’ “here is what exists about you in government and corporate computers, even if you are not a particularly active participant in the wired and unwired community”:
- Your health, credit, marital, educational and employment history
- Your telephone records of every call you make and receive
- Your subscriptions (newspaper, magazines, books you borrow at your local library)
- Your travel history
- Cash withdrawal trail
- Your purchases on credit or by check
- What you eat (check-out scanners are not just for convenience)
- Your e-mail (yes they can read it if they want to)
- Where you go online
(Gleick, p 177-179; 2002) With all of the above details, every single one of us has a profile stored somewhere ‘out there’ probably by the government that claims our privacy is assured, whilst secretly selling off our profiles to companies which then flood us with spam and telemarketing phone calls.
In terms of security, and the fact that the government claims the information is secure with them, I wonder: what about the multitude of times sites like FBI and CIA and even Etisalat’s own website were hacked? Whoever hacked them has taken information about people; who knows what they use that information for. Besides, if the sites were truly secure, hacking into them would be very difficult. It is ironic that a site based on a TV show or some fanatic based website is harder to crack than government!
Clarke, Roger A. Information Technology and Dataveillance Communications of the ACM, May 1988, Volume 31 Number 5. [ACM Digital Library accessed December 1st, 2003]
Gleick, James What Just Happened: A Chronicle from the Information Frontier Abacus, Time Warner Books UK, 2002
Hiller, Janine S and Ronnie Cohen Internet Law and Policy. Prentice Hall, Pearson Education, Inc 2002
Mitnick, Kevin D, and William L. Simon The Art of Deception : Controlling the Human Element of Security. Wiley Publishing, Inc 2002 ed.
Sullivan, Bob Are You Being Watched Online? November 14, 2003 MSNBC News
Wright, Marie A and John S. Kakalik The Erosion of Privacy. Computers and Society, December 1997. [ADM Digital Library Accessed December 1st, 2003]
Edit4: YAY I'm done...Stuck on the conclusion though; I need to 'go out with a bang' :: pulls hair out::