Friday, February 15, 2013

Technology and Privacy


In the last five years, smartphones have become extremely famous around the world. More and more people start to use them instead of feature phones. The smartphone market is so powerful that PC market has been threatened.  Apple and especially Google dominate smartphone market just like Microsoft dominates PC market. People use smartphones to receive emails, shopping online, find place to eat, etc. However, recent study shows that smartphones are stealing users' information without consents of users.


According to a new research by security analyst Samy Kamkar, an Android (Google system based)phone not only collects its location information but also the name, location and signal strength of Wi-Fi-networks, and it transmits these data to Google without informing users. Google tends to create a huge database consists of these information which could be profitable. Obviously this kind of unauthorized behavior violates one of the most basic human rights, right of privacy. Not only Google, but also Apple Company does the same illegal thing.


I still remember once I searched on amazon for a sleeping bag as I needed one for a trip in Spring break. However, I couldn’t find any one suitable for me. As a result, I closed the website and went to a Sports webpage for daily news. What frightened me was that pictures of different kinds of sleeping bags with prices shown in the bottom were shown in the advertisement sponsor by Google. I felt astonished that the internet actually knew what I did and tried to remember it. My information was stolen and someone behind the internet utilized it for profit without my consent. I felt unsecure, afraid, and angry because my right of privacy was violated.  Compared to computer, smartphones contains our contacts, credit card information and more personal things. What if this sensitive information could be obtained by others without our consent?

While enjoying the convenience of smartphone, we should pay attention to protect our rights of privacy. If not, companies like Google and Apple could be too powerful as they know everything about us.




1 comment:

  1. Online advertising is a field that I'm actually very interested in (with respect to both the monetary and ethical side of advertising). Interestingly enough, the same anti-trust issue you discussed concerning Google's trade practices recently came up as part of the Federal Trade Commission's discussions. The FTC generally exists as a means of providing a means of fair competition in an open economy (i.e. prevention of unfair business practices, stopping monopolies from forming, etc.) but sometimes touches on what it thinks consumers are legally and ethically entitled to. In the case of Google, the FTC recently claimed that consumers often *win* because of Google's practices, which means that their privacy isn't directly breached.

    The premise of the FTC's argument is pretty basic; websites need advertising to generate revenue and offset costs, while consumers would generally prefer to view targeted ads instead of random ones. If I'm looking to buy a new water bottle, and I absolutely had to see ads on a webpage, I'd like to see more about water bottles instead of baseball bats. Now, the ethical issue really arises when you consider the information a search engine will store about you...but I personally don't feel like it's that big of a deal. The type of data a search engine stores to use its optimization algorithms are things like past search history, NOT sensitive or personal information. There are very strict laws concerning what type of data an online advertising company can store about you, and there's a lot of litigation that goes on to make sure this data is completely safe.

    In the specific case of storing your signal location and type, a lot of people forget that every single Internet page you ever visit has this information stored about you. Whenever you connect to any website, from any computer, with any browser, your computer uses an IP address that stores all of this information. It's like a greeting card with some basic information about you, sent to the site before you actually visit it. These "greeting cards" are a pretty central part of the Internet as a whole, and using the web while blocking this information would be very hard to do. Any website, even this blog, is able to see the general location of its users. Smartphones are just another medium of accessing webpages, and so they naturally give off the same type of information.

    I feel as though there is a lot of paranoia surrounding privacy information, and that a lot of people tend to overestimate the amount and type of information collected by advertising agencies. Personally, it breaks down to three basic things for me. First, the data collected is not personal and a face/name cannot be paired with any data that the advertiser has. Second, if I have to see ads on a webpage, I'd rather have them be at least somewhat relevant to me (I'd rather see the latest tennis racquet, for example, instead of high strength foot cream). Finally, websites and the Internet as a whole are built to collect basic data, and it's something you can't really avoid anyway, so there isn't really much that can be done about it.