In a recent article by The Guardian, Alex Hern points out a striking detail in a photograph of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg as he celebrates Instagram’s 500 million monthly active users. If you look closely at what is assumedly Mark Zuckerberg’s computer, he has covered the webcam with white tape.  Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg is just among the overly paranoid Americans worrying about people gaining access to their webcam unknowingly. But, the numbers are not small. According to the American digital rights group, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), mentioned in Hern’s article, people purchase their webcam stickers regularly.

Perhaps the increased paranoia is the result of 2013 Edward Snowden’s reveal about National Security Agency’s surveillance of Americans’ online and phone communications. As the age of internet and computers progress and thus enables information to travel faster and farther than ever before, we arrive at a problem with what is private and what is public. Or rather, how can we keep our private information private?

Image courtesy of Flickr user John Jones.

“Big Brother” isn’t the only concern. Cyber-attacks are a real threat as well. The latest string of cyber attacks, including the controversial hack of Ashley Madison’s website in 2015, have spurred talks about strengthening the cyber-space and placing laws into place surrounding these invasions of privacies. While some Americans have taken measure to protect themselves online, few have adopted advanced countermeasures. Mary Madden and Lee Rainie’s explain, in their Pew Research Center article, clearing cookies or browser history have been the most common behavior among American adults. Whether it does much in preventing hackers from retrieving your deleted information, the answer is likely not really. Encryption software is often too expensive and too complicated for the ordinary consumer to utilize. The simplest way people are able to protect their online information is remaining anonymous, but even that might remain a bit too tedious for most users of the internet. Thus, companies must come up with more secure ways of using the internet – where user’s data information is hard to retrieve – or the government must take action to strengthen the security of cyberspace in a more effective way.

People like to think they’re in control of their own internet data. But the reality is that we do hundreds of searches on the web each day and we visit numerous sites. Each site tracks and stores our information. For hackers, sites are a treasure-trove of information they can uncover and use in malicious manners – such as taking your credit card information and selling it to others.

Americans express a continuing concern about the security of their internet activity. Most lack the confidence that online service providers can keep information private and secure. From Madden and Rainie’s article again, 66% adults are “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that their data gathered by search engine providers will remain private and secure.

Since the internet transcends time and borders, privacy isn’t just an issue in the United States. Are other countries facing the same paranoia and dealing with cyber-attackers like the US?

In a post-communist country, the Czech Republic, four in five users of the internet have not experienced a violation of their privacy on the internet, according to a 2014 statistic taken by the World Internet Project. And taken from the same study, 40% of users are worried about the government and/or companies looking into their online activities and 16% of Czechs want the government to regulate the internet more. Statistically, from Rasmussen Reports, the data in the US is only slightly higher with around 19% of American adults answering that more government regulation would be the best way to protect the internet’s users.

But storing information is not entirely bad. Imagine searching for a vacation in the tropics. Because Google stored your search and likely gave the information to travel agencies, they are able to target you with deals on vacations to places that you may not have considered. Information can definitely expose you to new, positive products but anyone with the right skills can attain that information. Vacation spots aren’t entirely attractive to potential hackers, but the credit card information you used to book your vacation with is a favorite target in the world of hackers.

The internet has been progressing so fast that counter-measures to protect people’s privacies are still a working progress. With information on the web keep growing and growing with no end, how do we protect our private information from hackers while also gaining the benefits? Passing the responsibility onto the government may mean they have access to everything, not only potential terrorist activities but also potentially embarrassing photos you send to a friend. Embarrassing photos might not be completely detrimental, but are people willing to give up their privacy entirely to the government to moderate?

Featured image courtesy of Flickr user United States Mission Geneva.


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