Surfing the web

‘Surfing the web' can be educational and fun. Email and Messenger is a great method to stay in touch with family and friends, and image boards and chat groups allow you to communicate with people with similar hobbies and interests. Most people are aware of the Internet's benefits, but not everyone is aware of how the Internet can threaten personal privacy and the steps you can take to protect your privacy in cyberspace. Many Web sites collect personal information; some are just more obvious about it. Other Web sites ask for personal information such as name and address before granting access, while others collect information in more subtle ways such as making a record of your Internet Protocol address and of the Web pages you visit. Certain websites, like that of Google, know more about you than the Nation Security Agency. Governments across the world have implemented laws as well, laws which breach internet privacy. Each government assures us that the privacy breach is for our protection, a surveillance method to catch online predators; however this still makes it possible for the government to look at everything you've done online in certain countries. However, there are some privacy laws set down that protect the user from both of these sources when browsing the internet, and there are methods in which you may remove your history from the web. The inadequacy and shortcomings of internet privacy can be seen in websites such as Google, governments across the world, and on your computer as you browse the internet.

On the internet, websites are able to access information about you every time you visit. This is done by either asking for it, in the cases of websites such as Facebook or MySpace, or keeping records of your cookies and search history such as Yahoo and other search engines. However, there is no website that knows as much about you as Google. From their creation, Google's company motto has been “Don't Be Evil,” (Google 2009) and the company earned fame early on by going head-to-head with Microsoft and other major organizations over desktop software and other products. Google's stated task may be to give “unbiased, accurate, and free access to information,” (Google 2009) but that didn't prevent Google from censoring its Chinese version to gain access to a profitable market. Now that Google is publicly traded, it has a lawful responsibility to its shareholders and that will always come before anything else. So the problem is not whether this massive corporation will always do the correct thing; it's whether Google, with its unquenchable thirst for your personal and professional data, has become the most easily targetable and utmost threat to privacy, a huge informational safe that attracts online thieves, crackers, hackers, and an administration with intentions on finding opportune ways to spy on its own citizenry. Over the years, Google has composed an astounding amount of data, and the “corporation willingly admits that in nine years of operation, it has never intentionally and deliberately erased a single search query” (PENENBERG, Adam L. 2006). It's one of the biggest data pack rats, and on appropriate grounds: 99 percent of its income comes from selling advertisement space that is specifically targeted to a user's preferences. Eric Goldman, a professor at Silicon Valley's Santa Clara School of Law and director of the High Tech Law Institute says that, “Google's entire value proposition is to figure out what people want. But to read our minds, they need to know a lot about us.” (PENENBERG, Adam L. 2006) Every search engine gathers knowledge about its users, and it does this primarily by sending us “cookies,” or text files that monitor our online actions. Most cookies expire and are erased within a few months or years. Google's, though, “don't expire until 2038.” (PENENBERG, Adam L. 2006) And Google knows far more than that: If you are a Gmail client, Google stockpiles copies of every email you send out and take in. If you use any of its other products: Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Scholar, Google Book Search, Google Video, Google Talk, Google News, and Google Images; it will keep a record of which products you buy or sell, which directions you look for, which satellite photos and news stories you view, what books you read, etcetera.

The governments of the world also have methods of breaching your privacy online, whether it is through obvious or more secretive methods. Recently the Harper government wanted to pass two Bills that wouldallow police to force Internet service providers, without a court warrant, for information on all Canadian Internet subscribers andall their private and personal communications. Canada's Conservative government wanted to give police far-reaching new powers to listen in on Canadians in cyberspace and to force Internet service providers to spy on subscribers without a warrant whenever the police tell them to. Two bills, C-46 and C-47, presented in Parliament last year on June 18 would give police consent to access, without moderationfrom the courts, the files of Internet service providers which would include all personal Internet communications and information from individual subscribers. Specifically, the legislation would violate your privacy by allowing the police to gather information without a warrant on a subscriber, such as name, phone number, home address and e-mail address. It would also compel Internet service providers to “‘freeze data' on hard drives to prevent subscribers under investigation from deleting potentially important evidence” (National Union of Public and General Employees 2009). The laws would necessitate that “telecommunications companies invest in technology enabling them to interrupt and intercept all of the Internet communications they handle”, and allow police to remotely activate tracking devices already embedded in cell phones and certain cars. (National Union of Public and General Employees 2009) Finally your communication privacy would be breached by freeing police to obtain data about where Internet communications are coming from and going to. “Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says police need ‘21st century tools' to deal with the changing times. Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan says the changesare needed to combat crime and terrorism in the face of ‘rapidly evolving communications technologies.'”(National Union of Public and General Employees2009) Other country's surveillance laws include the United Kingdom's “The Regulation of Investigatory Power Act” which includes specifications that require Internet service providers to set up systems to aid investigators in tracking electronic communications, personal or not. The United States has both “The Patriot Act” and the “Protect America Act” which allow wiretaps to internet connections. Lastly Australia has “The Surveillance Devices Bill” which allows Australian Federal Police to obtain warrants for the use of listening, tracking, data and optical surveillance devices. Despite all these breaches of privacy, some internet ambiguity is still possible.

Federal law offers little privacy protection relevant to Internet providers and few countries have addressed this issue. The lack of effective government oversight results from a number of factors. The Internet is moderately new; its usage and purpose continues to evolve at rapid speeds. Early legal decisions have reinforced a broad interest in protecting the Constitutional free-speech protection of the medium. Moreover, the Internet remains intimidating and unknown to many. Anecdotal reports of embezzlement of information are beginning to lead to additional governmental monitoring and scrutiny. The free-flowing nature of the Internet is seen as integral to its success and efforts to restrict the flow of information will face fierce opposition. However, there are some methods available to protect as much of your privacy as possible. One of these methods is to not provide personal information online unless absolutely necessary, and if you have to then always read the Web site privacy statements or policies before submitting your information, particularly regarding anything financial or medical. If you don't fully understand part of the guidelines, ask for explanation though the contacts page. Never give your agreement to something online you do not comprehend. This method along with using third party software that hides your IP address should protect against websites such as Google. Finally, the government can't really be protected against in breaching your privacy online, but you can take action against it and try to make these invasions deemed illegal, though protests or campaigns, it is how democracy works.

The inadequacy and shortcomings of internet privacy can be seen in websites such as Google, governments across the world, and on your computer as you browse the internet. With privacy invasions from Google, other websites and the government it may be hard to remain anonymous form everything on the internet, but it is possible if you take certain measures. In conclusion, perhaps when the internet stops being “new” to the world and its limitations are understood a privacy law can be set in effect, but until then always expect someone or something to be watching what you do online.

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