With the advent of a XXI century technological breakthrough, people seem to have another bunch of ethical issues to face. On the one hand, the significance of progress cannot be denied, and the invention of Web 2.0 is not to be underrated. Looking back at the times when there was no Internet, one can hardly believe that life without virtual reality could actually exist.
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With all the advantages that the Internet has brought, including social networking, the ability to keep in touch with literally any person in any spot of the world and the new opportunities for boosting business relationships, Internet truly is an invention of the century. However, with all the positive aspects that the IT sphere has to offer, online services in general and specific sites in particular have a number of drawbacks when it comes to online privacy.
Because of the necessity to offer personal information in certain online sites, whether these are entertainment sites or the sites offering specific services, an individual’s rights for privacy can easily be infringed, which creates a number of ethical dilemmas and can even redefine the entire process of online communication.
Speaking of the online privacy, there are several issues that demand a thorough discussion. To explain the controversy of a number of Internet services, one must mention that, while offering a number of peculiar features like free communication, online games, career-boosting opportunities, etc., online services demand a lot of personal information and sometimes even take it without the user’s consent and even awareness.
While the results of the above-mentioned information leakage are usually far from being drastic and are, in fact, even hardly noticeable, the threat is considerable and quite consistent, which means that the issue of information privacy must be revisited once again.
One of the greatest inventions of the Internet era, social networking deserves special attention. Modern social media is a perfect specimen of what is wrong and at the same time irresistible about the Internet. While social networking allows to keep in touch with people all over the world, it still demands that people should fill in their personal data, including their address, phone number, etc. Hence, the threat of having one’s IP or email hijacked, and even certain elements of personal information stolen and used for the wrong purpose, increases:
In fact, the insecurity within social network affects even the business in which the employees involved in a certain social network work. Moreover, social network becomes the battlefield for several enterprises to compete in their attempt to attract as many qualified employees as possible. According to the research conducted on security in social networking,
Blocking social networking sites is no longer feasible-they are an integral part of marketing and recruitment programs in many companies today. No single detection mechanism can provide complete security: neither signature-based nor behavior-based products are foolproof. However, by implementing a combination of detection mechanisms, the chances of malware slipping by can be drastically reduced. (Security in Social Networking, 2010, 8)
That being said, one must not underestimate the positive impact of social networking, which has been mentioned above. With all its flaws, it still remains one of the most powerful means of communication for the people who are quite distant from each other, not to mention the fact that social networking can and, in fact, is successfully used as a marketing tool, both for advertizing and recruitment.
Giving credit to the measures that have been undertaken to provide online security, one must admit that specific approach has been developed to make sure that users are disposed to as little danger as possible. As Banday (2011) explains, “SPF and SenderID are DNS based anti-forgery measures that allow receiving MTAs to verify that the message is coming from an expected IP address” (Banday, 2011, 41).
Thus, the user is able to make sure that the incoming message is trustworthy or, on the contrary, classify the incoming message as spam. Still, it is important to keep in mind that spyware is constantly being improved, and that the corresponding programs detecting it must improve as well.
The discussion of the availability of pictures and video on the Internet deserves a specific discussion. It is already known for a fact that any image downloaded into a social network quickly becomes accessible for the rest of the people. However, if the picture portraits not only the person who downloaded the image, but also another person, the latter can express disconcert with his/her personal freedoms being violated.
In the given case, the solution is rather simple; the person who downloaded the images should take them off the site. However, in case the account is hacked and the pictures have become available for literally anyone to see and, which is even more important, use, the issue becomes much more complicated.
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At the given point, however, the issue of personal privacy can easily come into a conflict with the freedom of expression. As Rowland warns, “over the past few years there has been a marked tendency by some governments to restrict and control access to the Internet in a manner which is incompatible with international norms on freedom of expression and information” (Rowland, 2003, 303).
Therefore, another sharp argument comes on the heels of people’s rights to express their ideas and thoughts. The given issue is even more complicated than a straightforward breach of one’s rights, since in the given case, the rights of at least two parties, i.e., the one who posts the information, and the one who is mentioned in the post, collide. Since both parties must be taken into account, it is quite hard to figure out who the victim is in the given case.
Speaking of one’s personal space, one cannot avoid the topic that has launched a million online debates. The phenomenon of Google Street View is the kind of controversy that both speaks for progress and infringes people’s rights. To specify what exactly is wrong with the given issue, it is necessary to consider the opportunities that Google Street View offers a bit closer.
A Maps GL technology, the given service allows seeing in details a particular street and even house. Moreover, being a set of pictures taken in the streets and converted into a 3D format, the Google Street View often captures passers-by in its focus, displaying not only houses and routes, but also people.
Since not everyone wishes that the pictures of him/her were taken in broad daylight without his/her consent and displayed for everyone to see, it can be suggested that Google Street View infringes people’s rights for personal privacy to a great extent.
Now that the key threats that can wait for one in the virtual reality have been explained, it is necessary to specify what exactly helps online hackers break through the shield of the users’ security. Once learning what exactly poses threat to the users’ security, one can easily evaluate the possibility of being attacked and having his/her personal data stolen.
One of the most obvious means to break through the wall of online security is to use a specific malware designed to identify and steal one’s IP address. According to the existing evidence, the significance of online security has not been taken seriously until recently:
Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP)  was originally designed for a smaller community of users which was assumed to be well behaved and trust worthy. As such no heed was paid towards incorporating security protocols in it. But with its growth, this trust was breached, owing to lack of adequate security mechanism in it. (Banday, 2011, 38)
It is worth mentioning, though, that the IP address of a particular user is rather easily identifiable. A specific numerical label, IP address serves as a means to identify a specific user, which presupposes that IP is defined automatically. As Banday explains, “Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP)  was originally designed for a smaller community of users which was assumed to be well behaved and trust worthy” (Banday, 2011, 38).
In their turn, “These protocols use diverse technological means like encryption, symmetric and asymmetric cryptography and domain validation through IP address verification and digital signatures” (Banday, 2011, 40). However, detecting one’s IP address, a malware can turn the user’s email as a machine for sending spam messages. Hence, the need to secure one’s IP address and email arises.
Another widespread method of hacking one’s private information is using all sorts of spyware. However, at this point, the significance of being able to detect the features of a spyware before downloading a certain application or free program is worth bringing up. In most cases, the user’s ability to abstain from downloading a malware or to detect certain suspicious features and decide not to trust the unknown application is crucial.
Therefore, when it comes to discussing malware, one must admit that the user is also somehow responsible for trusting the wrong source. At the given point, one can observe ambiguity again; while it is clear that the developer and creator of the malware in question must be judged, the user still bears certain responsibility, since (s)he downloaded and installed the malware willingly.
Hence comes the two-sidedness of the argument. While being the creator of a potentially dangerous software, the author of the program is to be considered the guilty party, the user bears a considerable amount of responsibility as well. Hence, the argument concerning the users’ responsibility is yet to be continued.
Finally, the users’ lack of care about their own personal information is worth bringing up. While the Internet does offer a number of opportunities for communication, making it more accessible and much easier, it still makes people take less care about their personal data, therefore, making people more careless about their own security.
Hence, the Internet can be posed both as a benefit for the human nation and as an ultimate threat to it. It lures people into danger by making their lives seemingly easier and turning them careless and inconsiderate.
Therefore, it is obvious that hacking one’s personal data is not an empty threat – on the contrary, the probability of getting one’s personal freedoms infringed by online hackers is quite high. It is worth mentioning, however, that some of the threats of identity theft and other crimes related to using one’s personal data are rather overestimated. Thus, it is necessary to keep in mind that, with due precaution measures, the risk level can be brought down a few notches.
Finally, the means to secure people’s privacy online must be mentioned. The given issue has launched a number of debates as well. Some schools of programming claim that the means to get a complete one hundred percent security is possible and everything depends on the user. Others state with just as much certainty that complete security is unachievable and that there will always be the risk to download a spyware or malware.
However, the attempts to secure the IP numbers and the emails of online users have not been terminated and most likely never will be. To start with, in 2011, efficient means to prevent email spoofing have been developed:
IP address based anti-spoofing standards include Certified Server Validation (CSV) , Bounce Address Tag Validation (BATV) , Lightweight MTA Authentication Protocol (LMAP)  Sender Policy Framework also called Sender Permitted Form (SPF)  and SenderID  also called Sender ID Framework (SIDF). (Banday, 2011, 42)
Hence, it can be considered that the battle between online hackers and the services providing anti-malware software will never end. While hackers will make more attempts to break through the users’ security, anti-malware companies will produce software that is even more sophisticated. Still, with the amount of precaution measures that are currently being undertaken, it is hardly possible that more superior malware is going to be created any time soon. In addition, with the increase of awareness concerning the malware threat among users, one can expect that the possibility of having one’s computer attacked by a malware will be driven to nil.
Despite the attempts to secure people’s online privacy, one still has to admit that there is a considerable privacy threat for anyone who enters the World Wide Web even for ten minutes. Developing new technologies that allow to define one’s personal data easily and even figure out the location of the Internet user, hackers pose a great threat to anyone who partakes in social networking (McGrath, 2011, 22).
Therefore, it must be admitted that within the realm of the |internet, the information privacy is never safe. Even with the measures that have been undertaken so far, the instances of users’ privacy frights infringement still occur, which means that the ethical debate is yet to be continued.
Banday, M. T. (2011). Effectiveness and limitations of e-mail security protocols. International Journal of Distributed and Parallel Systems, 2(3), 38-49.
McGrath, L. C. (2011). Social networking privacy: Important or not? Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business, 3(3), 22-28.
Rowland, D. (2003). Privacy, freedom of expression and CyberSLAPPs: Fostering anonymity on the Internet? International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 17(3), 303-312.
Security in Social Networking (2010). Express Computer. ProQuest. Web.