Sunday, January 27, 2013

Is Online Privacy an Oxymoron?

Given my love of most things involving technology and my personal experiences with cyber-bullying, I recognize the need to regularly monitor my presence both personally and professionally in cyberspace. While I Google myself several times each month to maintain an awareness of content involving my name and accounts, each time I conduct a search I become more and more amazed with the level of personal information now easily accessible by anyone with the time or interest in gathering data.

I, like millions of others pay my bills, purchase concert/sporting event tickets, and engage in a myriad of other activities online. I am very careful to protect my identity/accounts, but recently I have begun to think where our world may be headed in regard to our use of technology and open access to information. I enjoy being able to secure information on almost any subject in a matters of seconds. While I have come to enjoy this free open access, I have not given much thought to the price we may be paying for it in terms of personal cyber-security and personal safety. Last year I loaded a free App on my iPhone that allows the user to conduct free background checks. When I loaded the App I didn't give it much thought, because I was only interested in using the App as a tool to monitor information about myself and my husband (he too is interested in reducing his cyber risk).

The information I was able to gather from this App about myself was impressive (as it was incredibly accurate) and unsettling at the same time. The free "Background Check" App not only provided an amazing amount of information about me, but it also provided detailed personal information about each of my siblings (and their spouses), and my husband and his immediate family, even though I only entered my name and state of residence in the App's information fields.

The digital age is thriving and here to stay. It will continue to advance by leaps and bounds, but as users we must begin to push for standards of use, specifically related to online personal privacy. Within society there are expectations and standards for appropriate behavior; the Internet should not be treated any differently and should also follow standards. I can't accept the rationale that the Internet and technology tools are advancing too quickly for policymakers to keep up and develop legislation to govern and guide our behaviors. While the Internet is quickly evolving there are new companies born by the minute with the ability to access and share data previously inaccessible; this evolution is occurring in part based on financial rewards and the public's desire for instant access to information.

I am hopeful that as we continue to enjoy the Internet and its many benefits and opportunities for personal growth and development that we will also begin to seriously establish legislation that is fluid enough to adapt to the changing world of the Internet. I am also hopeful that we will continue to develop and offer effective tools to help individuals maintain personal privacy in the digital age. I would be disappointed to think in this incredible age of technology that Online Privacy is an Oxymoron.

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