Protecting your privacy

The recent Facebook fiasco reveals that our generation needs to take pay closer attention to what we put on the Internet.

Internet junkies remain concerned for their content after the recent Facebook privacy snafu, and rightly so, as larger issues were brought to light in the vehicle of the Facebook debate. According to Broadband-FinderâÄôs news feed last week , studies revealed that more than 80 percent of Internet users are concerned about their privacy when searching the Web. The catch is that more than 85 percent of those concerned individuals were older than 55. And the 18-24 year olds? Have their cares to the wind. Perhaps last week was the first time many young users have seriously considered the idea that uploaded content âÄî even their âÄú25 Things,âÄù might no longer be their own. ItâÄôs a violating feeling to say the least, and a wonder we never listened to our parentâÄôs concern when they realized we were broadcasting ourselves over our Web pages. But itâÄôs nothing new. Every time I log into my Facebook account, IâÄôm bombarded with a ribbon of âÄúunique engagement rings,âÄù âÄúFree SLR camerasâÄù and gross âÄúmiracle weight-loss diets.âÄù How did they know I was a photographer? How did Facebook know which apartments in the United States were in my neighborhood? Because I volunteered my information to the website. Everything via my interest section: my realm of study and the schools I have attended are used for advertisements. My e-mail address is also attached to my page: Facebook doesnâÄôt just use it to send me e-mails when I have a friend request. ThereâÄôs a larger beast at work, and IâÄôve begun to think twice before showing my friends my latest photos via Facebook and Flickr. The question here could be whether Facebook and others like Amazon.com have breached my privacy according to my constitutional rights. Indeed, it is a relevant question to consider. But more pertinent is the fact that these websites and countless others do have access to my information, and because it simplifies their marketing strategies by leaps and bounds, they happen to use that information whether I appreciate personalized advertisements. You could dismiss the problem as a determinate of our technology; the Internet lends itself well to the sharing of information and, therefore, our personal sharing of information and, conversely, the sharing of personal information. All of these are valid. I would argue, however, that the more important discussion is how we can avoid this and protect ourselves âÄî as narcissistic and voyeuristic as our generation has become. There exists a societal trend toward public, mediated display by âÄúordinaryâÄù people and the Internet facilitates this and garners monetary gain in the meantime. So the question is whether we are OK with such convenient advertisements. If weâÄôre not, what do we do about it? Actually read your terms of service: Though the Internet has created the biggest dissonance between generations since the onset of rock âÄònâÄô roll, our parents were right when they told us not to accept candy from strangers. WeâÄôre not our parentâÄôs generation, but weâÄôd be naïve to simply believe in a companyâÄôs good nature (e.g. when Mark Zuckerberg asked the users of Facebook to simply âÄútrustâÄù him last week. Good natured? Perhaps. Legitimate request? Hardly). According to an article published by the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday, the World Privacy Forum âÄî a nonprofit based in San Francisco âÄî noted some important advice. âÄúTerms of Service,âÄù said founder Pam Dixon, âÄútells you what rights a site has to your information; the Privacy Policy tells you how your information will be used. Legal protection for people who give away their information is sketchy, according to a report the Privacy Forum released today. A few people âÄî victims of domestic violence, for example âÄî are protected, but many others are not.âÄù HereâÄôs a rule of thumb: If the Terms of Service donâÄôt appear to be written in intelligible English (or another language in which you are fluent and understand), consider another service. It is easy to flourish language and tote âÄútechnology speakâÄù above the head of the average user of a companyâÄôs service. But remember, if thatâÄôs the case, it is likely the company doesnâÄôt actually want you to understand its terms. Big words donâÄôt always equate importance and stature. More often than not, they conceal a lack of significance. DonâÄôt buy into the meaningless jargon. Actively visit your privacy settings: ItâÄôs not simply a matter of legal help when youâÄôve been taken advantage of. FacebookâÄôs farce last week was not outside any legal realm. Often, companies are not legally required to notify Web users when their services and policies change. So donâÄôt be a dupe; exercise the power you do have. To protect your privacy on Google Earth, visit YouTube and search Google privacy channel. Sign into your Amazon account and visit the privacy section to prevent information about products you purchase from being shared with other vendors. DonâÄôt post anything you wouldnâÄôt want your mother to see; chances are she could access the information. Understand whether a provider retains your data after youâÄôve cancelled an account. Indeed, it is time to re-examine our constitutional rights to privacy and amend them to envelope these new technologies. A report from the World Privacy Forum has been in the works for weeks and lays out the current status of privacy law. Dixon has called for a new law that would let people control and remove their own information, although no such law is in the works. Kelsey Kudak welcomes comments at [email protected]