Internet Privacy

Internet privacy can be defined as the personal privacy of Internet-based transactions or transmission of data. The term also covers the control individuals have over the type and amount of personal information shared on the Internet and who may see that data.

The Internet has revolutionized the way people live and work. It allows consumers to improve communication and expands knowledge and education. Its role in modern society has been crucial, as it touches great part of individuals' lives - from how to study or to apply for a job, to tips on how to meet friends. Internet sites often substitute for more traditional information resources such as phone books and encyclopedias.

However, the Internet has also opened new opportunities for crime, deception and theft. Besides the financial losses resulting from these scams, they reduce confidence in the Internet as a safe place to communicate and shop. The privacy of citizens and consumers on the Internet is now a pressing concern. The web remains largely unregulated and the rules that protect our privacy in the physical world do not necessarily apply to the digital one. Critics argue that policies relating to the governance of digital space are underdeveloped and need further work.

Individuals understand their privacy as having autonomy of browsing, looking for information, studying, communicating and doing many other activities without being watched and identified. Moreover, people need to have control over the information they share with the public and private sector. Protection of email, online banking and electronic communication is one of the pre-conditions for privacy on the Internet.

The main challenges for the Internet privacy is ‘digital fingerprints', which people leave when they use the web. These fingerprints are like a puzzle which has to be connected to reveal a whole picture. This information is gathered by putting together all parts of the personal data individuals provide to others at almost every step of their Internet communication. Practices of association, speech and online shopping become rich sources of personal information.

One of the important issues for consumers is to know how to read and understand privacy policies of companies on the Internet. The process will need technology and legislation regulation, as well as the good will of both governments and private companies. Thus, protecting the privacy of individuals on the Internet has become big business. New software and technologies appear on the market frequently and competition is tough among producers. They offer products aiming to protect customers' anonymity, to keep credit and debit cards safe, and warn about sites that may provide personal data to third parties.

Risks remain, and cybercrimes vary in nature and approaches. There are companies that are hired with the sole purpose to monitor the sites an individual visits on the Internet. These organizations infiltrate the information and send advertising based on the browsing history of a personal computer. Credit or debit card fraud is when someone steals and uses a card or its number. This kind of fraud may involve ‘skimming', when a high-tech device collects credit card information to make a copy of it. With ‘phishing' scams, thieves use email to link consumers to fake websites and ask them to confirm account information by entering personal data into an official-looking form. Identity theft can also occur on the Internet.

There are some basic rules, which should be followed to protect consumer privacy on the Internet. Fake websites often appear for short time to make fast money and disappear. If a website has a professional looking website, it does not automatically mean that the company is legitimate. Legitimate sites must first clearly provide contact information and identity of the seller and then ask for consumers' credit cards details. Before buying, consumers should be sure that those websites have secure payment methods. If a site is sending unsolicited messages, spam or direct marketing, the sender must provide a link for unsubscribing.

Other very useful recommendations on Internet safety and privacy protection include the use of a free web-based email service. People should choose an address which does not reveal their name or other personal information. Keeping the web browser updated and blocking pop-up windows is another clever measure because it reduces the risk that malicious websites could compromise the computer security. Anti-virus software and firewall programs protect against someone trying to access the computer remotely.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

(Un)Reasonable Expectation of Digital Privacy
Crowther, Brandon T.
Brigham Young University Law Review, Vol. 2012, No. 1, January 1, 2012
Wiretapping the Internet: The Expansion of the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act to Extend Government Surveillance
Hibbard, Christa M.
Federal Communications Law Journal, Vol. 64, No. 2, March 2012
Privacy in the Age of the Hacker: Balancing Global Privacy and Data Security Law
Cunningham, McKay.
The George Washington International Law Review, Vol. 44, No. 4, October 1, 2012
Internet Privacy Costs of User-Generated Content
Weimer, Jason M.
Global Media Journal, Vol. 11, No. 19, Fall 2011
Social Networking and Online Privacy: Facebook Users' Perceptions
O'Brien, Deirdre; Torres, Ann M.
Irish Journal of Management, Vol. 31, No. 2, January 1, 2012
Promoting I-Safety: Effects of Privacy Warnings and Privacy Seals on Risk Assessment and Online Privacy Behavior
Larose, Robert; Rifon, Nora J.
The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Vol. 41, No. 1, Summer 2007
Consumers' Understanding of Privacy Rules in the Marketplace
Turow, Joseph; Hennessy, Michael; Bleakley, Amy.
The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Vol. 42, No. 3, Fall 2008
Internet Voting, Security, and Privacy
Epstein, Jeremy.
The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 19, No. 4, May 2011
Privacy, Accountability, and the Cooperating Defendant: Towards a New Role for Internet Access to Court Records
Morrison, Caren Myers.
Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 62, No. 3, April 2009
Unpopular Privacy: What Must We Hide?
Anita L. Allen.
Oxford University Press, 2011
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "The Electronic Data Give-Away"
Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life
Helen Nissenbaum.
Stanford University Press, 2010
More Essential Than Ever: The Fourth Amendment in the Twenty-First Century
Stephen J. Schulhofer.
Oxford University Press, 2012
Librarian’s tip: Especially Chap. 6 "Wiretapping, Eavesdropping, and the Information Age"
Imagining New Legalities: Privacy and Its Possibilities in the 21st Century
Austin Sarat; Lawrence Douglas; Martha Merrill Umphrey.
Stanford University Press, 2012
Librarian’s tip: "Configuring the Networked Citizen" begins on p. 129
Technology Policy, Internet Privacy, and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
Ciolli, Anthony.
Yale Journal of Law & Technology, Vol. 11, Annual 2008
Hardening the Browser: Protecting Patron Privacy on the Internet
Phetteplace, Eric.
Reference & User Services Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 3, Spring 2012
Click, Click, Who's Really There?
LHK Pub., 2006
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Protecting Your Privacy"
Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet
Christine Hine.
Berg, 2005
Librarian’s tip: "The Role of Privacy and Anonymity" begins on p. 26
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