Friday, October 31, 2014

From the desk

As technology has progressed over the years, the high-tech Internet search engines have continued to improve searches by taking the keywords you type in to previous Web pages you have browsed and assuming you want something similar.

Taken at its face value, the Internet’s knowing what you want, like some sort of voyeuristic stalker, is just plain creepy.

Are we, perhaps, releasing too much information about ourselves on the Internet? Or, are the privacy policies and terms and conditions wavers we sign whenever getting a new email or Facebook account really doing us under?
Taking a scroll through my email’s spam folder revealed some shocking results. Hundreds of companies that are suddenly on a first name basis with me not only have my contact information, but generally have a good idea about what I like.

Cassidy

I never signed up for these email alerts, so who gave them my address?

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), private companies begin tracking our movements online anyway that they can, and then sell that information to other companies who can then send it to the government or law enforcement.

In May 2012, Microsoft made a bold move that angered many corporations within the Association of Network Advertisers (ANA), according to the ACLU.

Internet Explorer 10, Microsoft’s most recent browser, has a default setting of “Do Not Track” when individuals search for answers via the Web.

In a rebuttal to Microsoft’s decision to grant citizens the right to chose whether to provide their information from the get-go, the ANA’s board of directors, which includes CEOs from organizations such as General Mills, General motors, The Procter & Gamble Company, Johnson & Johnson and Nestlé, wrote a letter trying to dissuade Microsoft’s decision.

“We believe that if Microsoft moves forward with this default setting, it will undercut the effectiveness of our members’ advertising supports,” the letter read. “This result will harm consumers, hurt competition and undermine American innovation and leadership in the Internet economy.”

According to the ANA letter, Microsoft could “potentially eliminate the ability to collect Web-viewing data of up to 43 percent of the browsers used by Americans.”

Microsoft’s decision to not force users to be tracked by corporations, which can then email you those lovely “Dear Your Name Here” messages persuading you to buy their products, seems to be a smart move by the corporation founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen.

While I did not suddenly feel inclined to start using Internet Explorer and wait hours for a Web page to load, I did look further into Google’s privacy policies to see what I signed up for.

According to one of the very first statements on Google’s privacy policy, the server collects information from all of its users in order to better improve its services.

So far, nothing too shocking jumps off the page. Weeding through the rest of the more than 2,000-word policy, I came across one clause that worried me slightly.

“We provide personal information to our affiliates or other trusted businesses or persons to process it for us, based on our instructions and in compliance with our Privacy Policy and any other appropriate confidentiality and security measures,” the policy read.

While the rest of the policy ensures the user that Google will not use your personal information for outside sources, the above clause offers it a loop hole, provided your information is going to a “trusted business” to process the information for the corporation.

This may not seem too troublesome, but in a society where we voluntarily provide our information for the whole world to see, having my Web browser not know my name would be nice every once in a while.

The Internet, it seems, is not just a passive tool we use in order to better our lives. It is a living, breathing entity that uses us as a means to better the market itself.

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