The Growth of the Internet Signals a Paradigm Shift in Personal Privacy - 2012

Abstract: Americans have benefited from the growth and development of the internet in a lot of ways. However, these gains are not without their costs. The Communications Revolution has made it more difficult for people to keep their personal lives private.

On June 6, 2012, the news media announced that hackers had breached LinkedIn's and eHarmony's websites and had stolen some of their customers' passwords. Per Forbes, the thieves then posted many of these passwords onto a "hacker's forum." On June 7, LinkedIn confirmed the breach of its site. The digital break-ins represent just the latest in a long string of instances in which an individual's (or in this case a large number of individuals') private information has been misappropriated. As Forbes notes, these incidents point to weaknesses in online security systems. However, on a more general level, the web breaches are also indicative of a paradigm shift in American culture.

Screenshot of an error page (1)
Identity theft is not new. Long before the Internet came into being, criminals could pilfer credit card information and social security numbers by snooping through trash bags (as noted by MSNBC), via phone scams, and probably through a host of other low tech methods. Anyone with a camera, listening device, or even just a keen ear could often gather information on someone else's foibles and disseminate it to the larger community through the media or by word of mouth.

However, as the eHarmony and LinkedIn breaches demonstrate, the growth of the internet has provided thieves with a variety of new methods for stealing personal data, including passwords, credit card information, and social security numbers. Additionally, the Internet has made it easy for anyone to post compromising information about another individual online for the world to see. Before the use of the Internet became widespread, a person (unless he or she was a celebrity) could usually attend a private event secure in the knowledge that his or her actions would not become public. Now, people have to be aware that anything they do or say at a party or at some other event might be captured by a smartphone and posted on a social media site. What is more, that post may receive thousands of visits in a matter of minutes.

The growth of the Internet has had obvious implications for personal privacy. In this regard, Americans have lost some of their autonomy. People, even the most circumspect, can no longer rest assured that their rights to privacy will be respected. Their most important personal information, as well as many of their deepest secrets, are only a click away from being stolen (and perhaps broadcast to the world). This situation gives new meaning to Shakespeare's oft quoted line (from "As You Like It"), "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."

The growth of the Internet has been a boon to many people in both the United States and throughout the world, allowing them, among other things, to connect with family living far away and to explore new types of relationships. However, it is worth remembering that these benefits have their costs. The right to privacy has been one of the key victims of the Communications Revolution.

1. Photographer/Creator: Saper
    Date: October 14, 2013
    Title/Description: Screenshot of an error page on Krajowy Rejestr Sądowy website
    Location/Permission: Wikimedia Commons - Notes on Wikimedia page
    (click on the title or the caption to see the photo, credits, and permissions).

-- Anthony Hopper

#Internet #technology #science #privacy #freedom #rights #opinion #personalinterest

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