Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website!
The internet’s debut in 1988 which had revolutionized commercial transactions all around the globe had grown exponentially over the past decade. In fact, the world internet users and population statistics by the Miniwatts Marketing Group (2009) showed that 23.5% of the world’s population are internet users and that the growth of internet users from 2000-2008 is 336.1 %. This rapid increase in internet users paved the way for the development of electronic commerce or E-commerce. E-commerce, the exchange of information, goods or services online, had also gained popularity over time as more and more people discover the expediency of online transactions. However, the internet, which is a huge storage room of information, poses risks to one’s privacy through these E-commerce transactions.
The privacy risks faced by internet users is one of the biggest threats in E-commerce, thus, this paper’s purpose is to provide information regarding internet privacy and the dangers associated with the loss of that privacy through the discussion of the following topics: the definition of internet privacy, the means through which one’s privacy can be compromised through the internet and the reason why internet privacy had become a major public concern.
I. What is Internet Privacy?
Internet privacy, which is another branch of privacy, is a basic human right. It refers to an individual’s ability to protect information about himself (Gadberg, Wagner & Brewer, n.d.). Privacy is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and by various laws in different countries around the world. According to the initial results of the data privacy survey conducted by the director of the Philippine Internet Commerce Society, Atty. Lalen Parlade, almost all respondents in the private sector believed that data privacy is part of every person’s right to privacy, and that this right imposes limitations on the use by the government of citizens’ personal data (including name, personal circumstances, contact information), and limitations on the collection and use by private individuals of an individual’s personal data (including name, personal circumstances, contact information, credit card).
On the internet, privacy can be divided into personal information privacy, privacy of communications and anonymity. Personal information privacy deals with the amount of personal information shared with anyone else on the internet without permission. Privacy communications or message privacy is concerned with the security of information sent through communication channels, that is, the information sent would not be intercepted and leaked en route. Finally, anonymity deals with keeping one’s identity confidential (“Privacy,” n.d.).
Among the three aspects of privacy, internet privacy is closely linked to anonymity which is the privacy of identity. Anonymity can refer to either persistent anonymity or one-time. Persistent anonymity refers to an online persona different from the personality created. On the other hand, one-time anonymity refers to an online persona that lasts for one use (Gadberg, Wagner & Brewer, n.d.).
II. In what ways can one’s privacy be compromised through the Internet?
One’s internet privacy can be compromised due to various data mining devices which store an individual’s personal information usually without that person’s consent. Some of the most common devices that collect a person’s data are search engines, spywares and cookies.
Almost every individual who uses the internet is familiar with search engines such as Yahoo, MSN and Google. Search engines are the tools one uses when looking for information in the World Wide Web, the results of the search which are called hits are presented in a list. It is widely used for data gathering in the internet. In fact, the word google, the name of the leading search engine today, is starting to become a verb which is synonymous to look up or search.
However, using search engines also has its costs, one of which was explained by Rushe (2007) in his statement, “ A lot of people don’t realize that search engines save everything for you, everything you’ve searched for…the more these issues get into press, the more people realize that when they sit down at their keyboard, they’re being watched.” Many companies, including Internet Service Providers, search engine firms, and web-based businesses, monitor users as they travel across the Internet, collecting information on what sites they visit, the time and length of these visits, search terms they enter, purchases they make, or even “click-through” responses to banner ads.
In the off-line world this would be comparable to, for example, having someone follow you through a shopping mall, scanning each page of every magazine you browse though, every pair of shoes that you looked at and every menu entry you read at the restaurant. When collected and combined with other data such as demographic or “psychographic” data, these diffuse pieces of information create highly detailed profiles of net users. These profiles have become a major currency in electronic commerce where they are used by advertisers and marketers to predict a user’s preferences, interests, needs and possible future purchases.
Most of these profiles are currently stored in anonymous form. However, there is a distinct likelihood that they will soon be linked with information, such as names and addresses, gathered from other sources, making them personally identifiable (“Privacy and Human Rights 2003: Threats to Privacy,” n.d.). Due to these reasons, the public started to doubt the credibility of search engine companies. Google, which is the most popular search engine today, is feared by many. As expressed by Jesdanun (2001), “Although many internet users eagerly await technology from Google, Inc., it’s rapid expansion is also promoting concerns that the company may know too much: what you read, where you surf and travel and whom you write.” According to Chris Hoofnagle, senior counsel of the Electric Privacy Information Center,” This is a lot of information in a single basket. Google is becoming one of the largest privacy risks on the internet” (as cited by Jesdanun,2001).
In, addition to search engines there are spywares whose existence places computer users under constant surveillance by strangers. Spyware may be described as any software that uses a person’s internet connection as a backdoor approach intended to access personal or business information, without the knowledge or consent of the computer user. Spyware is often introduced into computers when people download files off the internet. File sharing can pose risks of spyware download, when people download music, movie or other types of p2p file sharing programs. Marketing and promotional companies use spyware as an effective tool, to access and collect information from computers.
Spyware enables them to observe sites being visited, products being bought, chat line discussions, topics of interest, online searches by the user and the information obtained, allows the marketing company to direct targeted products or services. Spyware revolves around information going out to promotional companies and related advertisements coming in via the internet by way of email or pop-ups ads. Needless to say that spyware poses an immense threat to any computer user and can lead to the loss of privacy, stolen identity and financial risks. Spyware is a comprehensive term that includes adware,a trojan horse, a browser hijacker, keyloggers, and dataminers all of which affect online privacy. (“Are Your Computer Activities under Surveillance by Strangers,” n.d.).
Cookies remember your login and password, the products you’ve just bought, or your preferred color scheme. Cookies make navigating the Web profoundly easier; however, there are third-party cookies which are also known as “tracking cookies” that are placed by an entity that’s interested in tagging visitors. Often they make sure a user won’t be hit with the same ad twice; others guarantee that someone who says they have an interest in sports gets different ads than someone who likes gadgets. But third-party cookies could also be used to compile a dossier of surfing habits, that means that it could track you over dozens of sites, logging every article you read, every ad you click on, and every gadget and gizmo you buy without your knowledge or approval (Penenberg, 2005).
III. Why is Internet Privacy a major public concern?
The great innovation that has led to the e-commerce revolution over the past decade has been the result of an open and flexible network environment with ever increasing connectivity and functionality. Unfortunately, this has also created many security vulnerabilities which represent a threat to users of the internet and to e-commerce merchants. Due to the glitch in the internet’s security system, privacy has become a major concern on the internet. The extraordinary growth of the Internet has created a number of privacy issues that society has never encountered before and therefore has been slow to address. Privacy issues on the Internet relate to two major concerns. The first concern is to control the rate, type and sequence of the information one views. A second concern relates to the ability of users to address and understand how organizations collect and use personal information on the Internet (“Internet Privacy,” n.d.).
The first concern which is a control concern is the category to which spam belongs. Spam refers to a huge number of unwanted mails which are usually for commercial purposes. This is applicable to e-mails which convey the same message but sent repeatedly by the sender. This violates one’s privacy because it intrudes upon an individual’s private space and it results from the circulation of one’s e-mail address in the internet.
The second concerns the various methods through which data privacy can be violated online through the use of information collected by commercial organizations. As Givens (2001) pointed out,” News stories of internet privacy threats are common place these days. The internet was designed as an inherently insecure communications vehicle. Hackers easily penetrate the most secure facilities of the military and financial institutions. Internet companies have designed numerous ways to track web users as they travel and shop throughout cyberspace. “Cookie” is no longer a word associated solely with sweets. It now refers to cyber-snooping. Identity thieves are able to shop online anonymously using credit-identities of others. Web-based information brokers sell sensitive personal data, including social security numbers, relatively cheaply. “
One of the concerns raised by a number of individuals is the use of one’s stored information which refers to the fact that one’s online actions could be monitored by unauthorized parties, logged and preserved for future access many years later. One might not realize that one’s personal information has been monitored, logged and subsequently disclosed; those who would compromise one’s privacy have no incentive to give a warning (Gadberg, Wagner& Brewer, n.d.). Thereby, the accrued information about an individual’s transactions can incriminate or cause damage to the person from whom that information was collected.
Another public concern is identity theft. Puno pointed out that the advent of the internet had provided “ a new field of battle” in the right to privacy, saying that it may deprive individuals of the right to control the flow of information about themselves (as cited by Uy, March 13, 2008). The huge amount of information flowing freely on the internet makes an individual vulnerable to identity theft. Identity theft is a major problem and a vexing threat. It takes diverse forms and degrees ranging from simple unauthorized use of a credit card to complete takeover of a person’s identity. Furthermore, law enforcement officers find it difficult to identify and apprehend online Identity thieves. This may be due to the fact that they can use technology to conceal their identities and physical location, thereby frustrating law enforcement efforts to locate them.
Accordingly, identifying an electronic crime scene can be a daunting task when the perpetrator may have routed his communications with the victim through computers in three or four countries, with obscure networks that are inaccessible to investigators. Additionally, perpetrators could make things much more difficult and complicated by using technology and encryption techniques that provide a high level of anonymity or assuming the identity of an innocent person. Moreover, the scale of online identity theft can exceed that of real-world crime in terms of the degree of harm inflicted by a single crime (Chawki & Wahab, 2006).
Going further, another concern is being stalked and bullied online. Bullying and stalking are not only applicable in the real world but in the virtual world as well. Cyberbullying refers to the new, and growing, practice of using technology to harass, or bully, someone else. Bullies used to be restricted to methods such as physical intimidation, postal mail, or the telephone.
Now, developments in electronic media offer forums such as email, instant messaging, web pages, and digital photos to add to the arsenal. Computers, cell phones, and Personal Digital Assistants are new tools that can be applied to an old practice. Cyber stalking on the other hand is almost always characterized by the stalker relentlessly pursuing his\her victim online and is much more likely to include some form of offline attack, as well. This offline aspect makes it a more serious situation as it can easily lead to dangerous physical contact, if the victim’s location is known (McDowell, 2008).
Due to the nature of the above-mentioned concerns, internet privacy, specifically personal information privacy is very important. If one’s real identity is known in the cyber world one would be very vulnerable to the attacks of cyberbullies and cyberstalkers.
The increasing use of the internet in conducting E-commerce transactions totally changed the way of life. Today, with a click of a button one can get in touch with the rest of the world, one can get the latest lotto results online and one can pay our bills directly from our homes. However, while an individual is enjoying the features of the internet, that person is also faced with huge threats to privacy. These threats could be risky to an individual’s personal information privacy, privacy in communications and anonymity.
But these trade-offs are necessary in order to utilize the functionality of the internet. It would be impossible to stop the use of internet especially at this age where different organizations from around the world are use the internet in conducting different transactions. Also, the internet is a huge information pool that provides large amounts of information to its users everyday. Of the 6,710,029,070 people in the world 1,574,313,184 for varying reasons. The internet also provides employment for a number of individuals so abolishing it is not an option.
Internet Privacy is a very essential issue regarding E-commerce because it is one of the reasons why a number of individuals are still hesitant about going online. Getting rid of various data mining devices in the World Wide Web is also impossible because even if there are costs associated with those tools they also have their benefits. And so, the best course of action involves taking precautions in safeguarding one’s identity and staying informed. Gaining knowledge about internet privacy is very important because through this we will be aware of the amount of personal data that we reveal online.