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Privacy on the Internet: An Oxymoron

The film watched in class, Terms and Conditions May Apply, as well as the readings, highlight the scarcity of privacy on the Internet. The film starts out by discussing some of the changes that have been made to various privacy policies through out time, and how those privacy settings have affected users. These changes include things like making default settings public; where all of a user’s content can be seen by the general population. The reading Facebook Privacy Settings: Who Cares? examines the awareness of what these settings mean, and how people respond to the settings.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this topic is the piece in the afore mentioned article about gender and the Internet. The article claims that very little difference exists between male and female proficiency in Facebook’s privacy settings. This is an anomaly given that in almost all other Internet domains, women report a lower skill level than men. The article concludes that a major contributing factor to this balance is the education received by teenagers of both genders regarding Internet safety and privacy. What interests me is that even though, in theory, boys and girls are receiving the same education about Internet safety, a disproportionate increase in proficiency exists between boys and girls, creating a balance masquerading as equality.

While it is beneficial for women to be aware of safety on the Internet, I would argue it is important for everyone to be aware. It appears to me that certain tactics are being used that result in the increase of female awareness to the point where it is equal to male awareness. This can very easily be equated with the idea of “slut-shaming” in the tactile world, where women feel the need to dress modestly to avoid assault, but men do not often learn an equal message about how to treat women. As a girl in high school, I learned to be careful with what I post on the Internet because, “You never know whose hands that information could get into.” I very rarely saw boys using the same caution I was told to use on the Internet.

Awareness for both men and women is also vital because everything posted on the Internet is permanent and viewable by the government. I know I don’t think consciously when I post something that it will be there forever, but its frightening to think that in ten or fifteen years if I run for public office or want to adopt a child or even if the information I have posted on the Internet gets into the wrong hands, that things I am saying now could have an impact on my life in the future. Not that I am deeply concerned with the content of things I search for or post, but I wouldn’t want people who don’t know me to see that content either.

So how can we protect ourselves online? The New York Times article, Sweeping Away Search History, offers a solution. Several search engines exist that do not keep a record of search history or IP addresses. While these sites have some flaws, as pointed out in the article, a less precise search is a small price to pay for more privacy. 

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