Digital Surveillance: Our Right To Privacy

Consumers are the captains of their own new-media ships. Joseph Turow’s focus in his novel, The Daily You, examines the opinion that advertising companies are experiencing a ‘revolution’ in marketing, and media.  Networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Blogs are allowing marketing companies and Governments to intrude into our personal lives. The internet and other forms of digital media have increased surveillance as the sites themselves improve the development of advanced sites * and security systems are implicating onto the personal space of the public. Social networking sites, Google sites and CCTV Security systems all play a role in the new modern form of digital surveillance.

Advertising companies experience a great amount of benefits from the increase in security on social networking sites; in particular the social networking site Facebook withholds much of our personal information, which is easily available for anyone to access. When allowing access into our Facebook accounts we are allowing unknown companies and people our private information; while at times we are not aware of this, in some cases we do consciously allow it when the offer of discounts and sample products are set.  Willingly sacrificing our privacy on the network by joining games and downloading applications via Facebook gives permission for the owners of the game/app to receive our private information, and in many cases it is advertising companies that are the controllers of these apps.

When downloading an application on Facebook you are permitting your basic information such as date of birth, gender, your email address, your profile information (interests, likes, location, relationship status, religious and political views, etc), your stories (check-ins, events, photos and status updates) and Friends profile information. “On Facebook, we know exactly what gender someone is and exactly what age they are,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.  This form of surveillance preformed on the internet by companies is to a great extent an invasion of privacy; the use of this data goes towards benefitting advertising companies and groups in the marketing of their products/brands. This invasion of privacy is evidence that our private information is not safe on the net, if this information can be easily sourced how protected are we on the net? Social concerns associated with social networking sites include teenagers and children being exposed to strangers, the risks of children under the age of fourteen using social networking sites and also to companies using the sites to collect marketing information.

Social networking sites do prove to be the biggest offenders of breaching privacy, through the use of Facebook surveillance, for the benefits of advertising companies. However there is also another form of digital media which make for an example of invasion of privacy and surveillance via the internet. Google’s increase in surveillance of its users has offered some implications to do with the fact that they disregard privacy of individuals. Two aspects of Google’s programming which fit into the category of surveillance of public and privacy issues are that…

  1. Google keeps track of all search records: Google claim in their Privacy information that they store data in order to ‘improve our search results and to maintain the security of our systems… we receive requests from government agencies around the world to provide information about users of our services and products.’ Keeping this data is a concerning matter; everything that an individual looks at is watched and noted, whilst in cases this can benefit the Government it is also an extreme invasion of privacy to one’s personal affairs.
  2. Google Street View: The Google Street View is an extremely creative and advanced technological feature which provides panoramic views from positions along many streets of the world. This feature of Google however has been put under the eye of many political and social spectators for its privacy issues. There have been many objections to this Google feature as it provides images of private property to images capturing identities of individuals.

A significant experience in reference to the Google Street View program and its privacy issues was last experienced late February, 2010, when Google was taken to the Swiss court for the second time. Concern from Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Japan and Greece was expressed in reference to the fact that people’s faces are in many cases not blurred, license plate numbers were identifiable and the height of the Street View camera allowed for viewing of private areas.

This form of surveillance which Google preforms is similar to another system used in many countries in the world, established by Governments. Britain is well known for their excessive use of a CCTV Surveillance. Whilst the use of CCTV Systems is popular among many Governments in Countries, it is a successful way of monitoring and offering security to the public. With a network of over 1.85 million CCTV Cameras this system has caused similar arguments to those experienced with the Google Street View program. Whilst this surveillance system does provide reassurance and protection to the public, it is also an invasion of privacy with many cameras pointing into privately owned areas and the public constantly being watched and observed by the Government. Benefits which the British Government receive from conducting this CCTV Surveillance System of the country is it helps with security and enhances the protection of the public; however the excessive amount of cameras which are not only in major public areas but smaller, less populated areas in which they are not truly required (i.e. suburban streets).

These different examples of surveillance all can conclude into one outlook which Cowen summed up perfectly “A man without privacy is a man without dignity; the fear that Big Brother is watching and listening threatens the freedom of the individual no less than the prison bars” (Cowen 1969). Individuals must be aware that when it comes to digital media there is no privacy on the consumer web and that you must assume everything you post is either public today or it will be later on; you must be smart when putting private information onto the internet.

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