As the Internet proliferates across the globe, it has become an essential instrument in the personal and professional lives of millions of people. Despite this pervasiveness, there is an inescapable consequence to using the web and that is the transformation of computer mediated communication into behaviors and trends that can be tracked across multiple platforms, making it possible to compile detailed, intimate profiles of individuals. These electronic footprints left throughout the Internet occur as soon as you visit a website and have the potential to threaten individual privacy implying there is a fundamental shift in the ethical question of who must manage privacy concerns and whether that is the onus of the individual, commercial enterprise or government (Shaw, 2003). The resulting confrontation between commerce, governments and individual rights has lead to a tenuous balance between the need for privacy, societal benefit and the opportunity for commercial success. As I write this, our culture and the influence of networked communication are changing our concept of personal privacy and although we could attempt to craft predictions about the future impact of technology and networking on our private information, I suspect most of those predictions would be wrong. The sense that our expectations of privacy are changing is an important distinction because courts in both Canada and the United States have chosen to define the tort of intrusion as:
One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the invasion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person (Ha-Redeye, 2015).
It insinuates that the influence of platforms such as social media are changing our cultural expectation of privacy and moving the goalposts if related to the reasonable person passage. The thought of future generations finding personal information online offensive is seemingly impractical given our use communication technology today. What is certain is that we are in an era that facilitates the sharing and collection of information within the Internet and that over sharing can have consequences for individuals since we seemingly have limited ability to keep up with the regulatory, societal and legal changes necessary to protect our personal privacy.
To understand why the disclosure of private information is of concern we must recognize that privacy is a concept related to the integrity and well being of a person (Gotterbarn, 1999). The breadth of matters regarded as private contains much of what we referred to as a person’s inner self, or knowing about person’s thoughts, beliefs and emotions (Miller & Weckert, 2000). Furthermore, particulars pertaining to ownership or money are often considered private in Western society, as are plans and strategies that are required to pursue projects or business matters. These simple assertions emphasize the importance of information about an individual and how it relates to their individuality, autonomy and view that people have a right to privacy. Thus, the ability to track individuals through IP addresses and any URL they visit is much like opening a door that allows us look upon the world, but also invites the world look in at us, opening the door to misuse of their information. While etiquette, legislation and technology have been used to manage privacy concerns across the Internet, information is gathered about individuals without their implicit knowledge or consent. This virtual information becomes part of you electronic footprint and makes inferences about your future behavior, personality traits, etc. The control over this digital footprint and its component parts are at the center of this concern and the ability of others to access these parts can lead to criminal activities such as identity theft. Although, the apprehensions regarding privacy invasion go far beyond enabling criminal activity and underline a philosophical discussion about setting limits of new technology to intrude excessively into such areas as public spaces or the workplace. In one instance there is a primary moral responsibility to respect an individual’s right to privacy, there are however examples of the legitimate instances where privacy cannot be expected such as employers needing to monitor employee performance through computer use, or law enforcement agencies to examine the communications of criminal organizations.
Throughout history people have always found ways to connect with one another, whether sharing their stories or documenting their lives in various mediums. Telling one’s story in a manner that others will understand, connect with and appreciate is probably one of the driving forces behind our societies forms of art and literature. The ease at which our online technologies facilitate the sharing of our stories makes the process increasingly comfortable and accessible, allowing users to share vast amounts of information freely. Many individuals and organizations interpret the sharing of information online as a lack of concern about privacy, however users have shown they want power over their personal data, the ability to share when they want and the ability to limit access in others, indicating that sharing and privacy are not mutually exclusive (Reitman, 2010). The casual documentation of our lives through the sharing of data such as location, pictures, thoughts and feelings is not as innocuous as it seems. The ability to tag and categorize data making it easier for others to find, connects a wealth of information to our digital personalities having potential impact in our offline lives. Undoubtedly, many users never read the terms of service or fine print containing privacy policies of the applications they are using because they generally believe they have fundamental rights, however the truth is most agreements provide little in the way of rights and is often subject ongoing change. For some, the personal information posted by individuals to the Internet has the potential to live on in perpetuity creating a concern that ones digital identity may not reflect our evolution on a social and emotional level thus suffering ongoing consequences before we recognized the importance of monitoring and managing our online identities (Reitman, 2010). While there is certainly some debate as to what constitutes public information versus shared private information in our digital era our online identities can be used by potential employers, tracked by government or utilized by individuals with malicious intent. This has caused many to proactively restrict access to aspects of their online identities within social networks triggering some criticism that the lack of privacy has created a hyper-vigilant society that suppresses free expression (Mayer-Schonberger, 2009). Nevertheless it is clear that the sharing of personal, private data on the Internet is critical to many business models that organizations use for economic gain. As a result it tests our ability to seek a balance between the right to share data and the right to privacy.
Mechanism of Intrusion
It seems the twentieth century Ethics has been preoccupied with Kant’s deontological perspective of duty or obligation, the affect of individual character or the utilitarian perspective of the greatest good for the greatest number of people
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