The Ethics of Technology: Privacy

The-future-of-privacy“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself” (Orwell, 1949). The issue of ethics and privacy in the age of great technological advance is not a new idea, but has been around for a very long time. Even before computers were the talk of the day, the battle for privacy was at an all-time high. Fact is, the more you know about a person and their habits, the more you can manipulate the way a person thinks and acts. For instance, by using your loyalty card at your local gas station the company can develop product advertisements geared especially to your interests. While this manipulative mastery seems harmless enough, the idea behind it is far more concerning. On a larger scale, your private information can be used to keep you in a controlled environment.

Privacy and Communism

To understand what I mean, let us look at the concept of Communism. Communism, as envisioned by Karl Marx, was principled on the abilities of a population to feed the needs of the population altogether (Woods, 2013). A noble idea, but with the uncertainties surrounding both production and reward the premise was doomed to fail in countries where it was adopted. This failure inclined governments to seek ways to make it work through the control of its subjects. Thus, the battle for privacy began, and the ethical issues that surround privacy abounded.

Data Collection Concern

George Orwell, a renowned author with such titles as, “Animal Farm” and “1984,” saw how corrupt leaders could exploit the issues of privacy and anonymity, and wrote satirical fiction based on what he understood as the communist parties goals (George Orwell, 2014). Just as themed in his books, the scare of “big government,” as well as the need for anonymity, is fueling concern for privacy now more than ever before in the wake of advancing technologies, such as the computer, and the advent of the Internet. In fact, one of the earliest computer ethics topics dealt with this very thing, privacy and the ethical nature of the collection of data on private citizens (Computer and information ethics, 2001). Bills have long been in effect that have assigned numbers to every citizen of the United States, i.e. Social Security Identification Numbers. Census data, tax records, service records, welfare records, and a near endless list of data collection, all associated with individuals, have gave rise to concern that our privacy is no longer altogether private (Computer and information ethics, 2001). The Internet has given rise to new ways to collect private data from individuals, much of which the user is totally oblivious too. This collection of private data is concerning in two major ways.

Identity Theft

One major concern is the theft of a person’s identity. Everyday thousands of attacks occur in effort to access your information. Hackers look for ways to access your phone, your computer, your car, even your blender; that is right, I said it, your blender (Brandon, 2010). The advent of home automation systems allows hackers to tape into your appliances and distract you while breaking into your home from an entrance away from the distraction; i.e. your blender could be used to invade your privacy (Brandon, 2010). Hackers can use information they get from your Wi-Fi connections to take your bank accounts, make unauthorized purchases with your credit card, and even get passports out of the country.

Control

The collection of data by governmental agencies could be used to control populations. Much of the data collected on individuals, by the NSA for instance, is used to keep the public at large safe. While this is noble, in theory it also allows “Hitleresque” leaders to control what you say and do. The fact is that the NSA has made it a goal to track every phone call, email and internet search in the nation, and this can be a real problem for future generations (Smith & Hallman, 2013). Even this blog post is not out of reach from data collection, and no doubt can be used to classify what risk I propose to society at large. What if “world government” decided that your religious affiliation was a deterrent to world peace? “Far-fetched” you say, not really. Interfaithism has long been a United Nations idea. As globalism grows, technology expands, and the world becomes a smaller place to live, global governance is not out of the question, hence the global court, and International Monetary Fund, the United Nations.
Here is a quote from George Bush Sr. That gives insight into what many world leaders today believe. “We have before us the opportunity to forge for ourselves and for future generations a new world order…. When we are successful, and we will be, we have a real chance at this new world order. An order in which a credible United Nations can use its peace keeping role to fulfill the promise and vision of the UN’s founders” (Menfinnar, 2012).

Ethical Technology and Privacy

Can the gathering of private information ever be ethically done with technology? I believe it can, but it must be done with guidelines in place that protect the individual from whom the information comes. A person’s religious affiliation, political ideology, and other preferences cannot be determining factors in how a person is profiled. This in turn must be safeguarded against by not allowing such information to be monitored and saved. Information obtained indicating terrorism by way of active threat need be considered, but information used to profile should be guarded against. Other forms of information given willfully by a participant must only be used to establish the action for which the provider intended. It is a given that privacy is servant to the medium by which information is shared, but it should be used only with the consent of the provider.

References

Brandon, J. (2010, June 11). 10 Everyday items hackers are targeting right now. Retrieved from Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2010/06/11/everyday-items-hackers-targeting-right/

Computer and information ethics. (2001, August 14). Retrieved from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-computer/#PriAno

George Orwell. (2014). Retrieved from Biography: http://www.biography.com/people/george-orwell-9429833#personal-life&awesm=~oB2twG4RVrodMd

Menfinnar. (2012, October 6). And what’s next? New world order and usa’s policy on israel. Retrieved from You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrFoaH-3dSA

Orwell, G. (1949). 1984. London: Warburg Limited.

Smith, G., & Hallman, B. (2013, June 12). NSA spying controversy highlights embrace of big data. Retrieved from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/12/nsa-big-data_n_3423482.html

Woods, A. (2013, June 21). The ideas of Karl Marx. Retrieved from In defence of marxism: http://www.marxist.com/karl-marx-130-years.htm

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Diana April 11, 2014, 4:39 pm

    Your last statement contains the fundamental principle of my position on online privacy…personal information should only be usable when the provider gives consent. Technically, most companies and web site providers would argue that the user does give consent, as the terms and conditions of personal data tracking and usage is available in the site user agreement…you know, the one in tiny print that is five pages long, that you agreed to five years ago when you first used the site. My argument is that the companies have not been transparent enough to consider the provider of personal information duly informed. I hesitate to endorse the position that companies should not use our information, as this data is extremely useful in targeting advertising. Most of the world enjoys free access to web sites. The sites are not truly free. We pay for access, but the exchange is not monetary. Our currency is our data. If we eliminate this exchange, many more sites would charge for access. Consider the case of the New York Times, having to charge for access when advertising income declined. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/business/media/21times.html?_r=0 .) If I were the policy writer on Internet privacy, I would require every site to have a link available on their homepage that took a user to their data-disclosure page. There, the company would be required to state clearly what user information was collected, tracked, and sold. This increased transparency would improve consumer understanding and trust.

    Reply
    • Jay April 13, 2014, 12:06 am

      My fundamental principle also Diana. Like anything else, companies get their information from somewhere so they can advertise to the public, but anonymity is the key. While Speedway Gas Station may know my buying habits, because of my loyalty card, they are under an ethical obligation to keep this information private. I do not want it shared with the government or anyone else. Not because I am a criminal, but I am an individual, and that makes all the difference. I agree, by the way, companies are not transparent enough on some of these websites in regard to privacy.

      Thank you,

      Jay Prewitt

      Reply
  • Britt Watwood April 12, 2014, 4:41 pm

    I like Diana’s proposition…and awareness of privacy is the first step. I found it interesting that former President Jimmy Carter uses snail mail to keep the NSA out of his communications – http://nypost.com/2014/03/23/jimmy-carter-uses-snail-mail-to-thwart-nsa/

    I also suggest that we not label organizations as evil if we ourselves have not paid attention to our own privacy settings in every website we join.

    Reply
    • Jay April 12, 2014, 11:43 pm

      It is certainly the responsibility for the user of any website to be aware of a websites privacy policies, but these policies are not always up front. Sometimes privacy is unwittingly given up, such as with the use of Google Chrome and the information that is transferred back to them and stored with your unique IP address (Google and Privacy, 2012). I dare not say that these companies are evil, even a lion has to eat, but a user has to be diligent to know how their private information is being used. I too find it interesting about Jimmy Carter’s use of snail mail. That is interesting, thank you for sharing.

      Thank you,

      Jay Prewitt

      Reply
  • Patrick April 12, 2014, 5:30 pm

    Re: Orwell. I have been thinking, both before this course, but even more, now as we mine these issues together–in so many ways we are WAY past 1984. And I don’t mean, by 30 years.

    Reply
    • Jay April 13, 2014, 12:00 am

      Governments certainly have the technology to surpass George Orwell’s vision of 1984. I think the most interesting and possibly scary thing about 1984 is that, while it is a work of fiction, it is based on what Orwell knew his Communist Party wanted to do. I am not a conspiracy theory guy, but I am not blind either. The ability for control is out their, our privacy is certainly shrinking, and many world leaders have visions of global governance. One quote that sums up my concern comes from the late Henry Rockefeller, He says,

      “Today Americans would be outraged if U.N. troops entered Los Angeles to restore order; tomorrow they will be grateful! This is especially true if they were told there was an outside threat from beyond whether real or promulgated, that threatened our very existence. It is then that all peoples of the world will pledge with world leaders to deliver them from this evil. The one thing every man fears is the unknown. When presented with this scenario, individual rights will be willingly relinquished for the guarantee of their well being granted to them by their world government.”

      This was a quote from his address to the Bilderberger meeting at Evian, France, May 21, 1992 (Kissinger, 1991).

      Reply

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