Information Technology and Privacy – 2014 Update

Since this blog began in 2011, Online Privacy and the issues associated with it have continued to evolve at a rapid pace. This post reports on issues that have emerged in the past year and the responses to them

Jack Vale, an online prankster produced an amusing video that highlights the nature of the risks that exist in our online, connected and geographically aware devices today:

This post relates new research that has appeared in the US and Canada on people’s perceptions of privacy online today. Concerns have increased about the data that is collected by governments and corporations and the uses to which it is put. While Julian Assange and Wikileaks had faded in visibility to some degree in 2013, Edward Snowden and his Prism revelations have ensured that the debate over security vs. privacy has continued to be a prominent one.  Ann Cavoukian’s Privacy By Design approach is proposed as a solution to many of the problems and it is explored and this post concludes with a discussion on whether privacy is dead and whether that matters (it does).

The following video from PBS traces the history of privacy and how we got to the position that we are in today:

While concerns exist about the decline of privacy – the following video acknowledges these and says that it doesn’t matter, arguing that its benefits outweigh the disadvantages:

What do people think about privacy today?

Pew Research released a report in September 2013 which looked at how the US population had experienced internet privacy and their concerns. They found that

86 % of internet users had taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints

55 % had taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organisations or the government

21 % have had an email or social networking account compromised

12 % have been stalked or harassed online and 11 % have had important personal information stolen

4% had been led into physical danger because of something that happened online

In Canada a detailed study was undertaken by the federal Privacy Commissioner on Privacy Related Issues. It found that concerns were increasing about how new technologies were affecting personal privacy:

Confidence Understand Technology Privacy

That protection of personal information was thought to be one of the most important issues facing Canadians over the next 10 years:

Importance Next Ten Years

That concerns existed about how organisations dealt with privacy breaches:

Notification of Breach

and that corporate use of the data that they collected would be abused:

Level of Concern

and that companies should have to ask permission to use individual’s data:

Permission To Track

That websites should inform people about the data that they are collecting:

Importance of Informing

and that there was a widespread concern about telecoms providing information to police and intelligence agencies without a warrant:

Disclose Information Without a Warrant

Finally, the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles was also questioned:

Comfort with UAVs

While citizen opinions were solicited in the surveys reviewed above, corporate approaches to their own privacy are reported in this video, where we note that activity is increasing in recognition that the privacy landscape is changing:

Those concerned about the tracking of their online activity by companies can use tools that will reduce the tracking done: Don’t Track Me and Ghostery are popular – Ghostery is described in this video:

Social Media

The use of social media continued top grow in 2013. The surveys appear to indicate that concerns are increasing about the use that social media is being put – this video takes a strong view:

Jack Dorsey of Twitter seeks to reassure Twitter users of his company’s approach to privacy and release of information:

Lori Andrews has authored a book on social networks and the “death of privacy” and discusses it in the next video:

Concerns about privacy are extending beyond the formal social media tools. In this video a discussion on privacy generally is set within a gaming context:

This tech journalist believes that the issues associated with privacy on social media are overstated and our information is not that important:

The following discussion takes a serious view of the availability of personal data and argues that governments struggle to keep up with what is happening. Younger generations may be less concerned, and may be more careful than older people about what they do online. It looks to a future of increasingly connected lives:

Privacy and Government

In Canada, revelations from Edward Snowden have recently raised concerns about the collection of data by government intelligence agencies:

Edward Snowden’s, a US intelligence analyst has revealed extensive data about the practices of Western governments. The US government has argued that his revelations are dangerous and damaging to US security interests and they argue that Snowden should be tried in a court of law on espionage charges. Others, including his father who features in the video below, argue that he is a whistle blower who should be thanked for his efforts:

The following video is an interview with Edward Snowden in which he defends his actions:

Is privacy dead?

Divisions exist on whether privacy is dead and whether it matters. This video expresses the view that the death of privacy is not important and that it is not a big deal:

While in the following video a lawyer argues that privacy remains very important:

and this woman appears to illustrate some areas that should remain confidential in health information:

Privacy by Design

Ann Cavoukian, the Ontario Privacy Commissioner argues that an approach, developed by her, called Privacy By Design can help deal with many of the current issues by designing internet services with privacy built in from the beginning:

Finally, this last video suggests a possible cultural response to privacy concerns:

This post has reviewed some of the issues that have emerged in the past year on information technology and privacy. Concerns are increasing about privacy and what companies and organisations do with people’s data – research evidence indicates this. Social media growth has increased concerns here and the debate over the importance of privacy has intensified. Edward Snowden’s leaks of US Government intelligence data and his revelations of their practices have shocked many and raised the profile of the debate on the government use of the internet for security purposes.


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