Internet Privacy Issues

I know from conversations that I’ve had with friends, as well as things that I’ve read, that internet and privacy don’t go well together, and that we should never expect what we say, or where we go on the net, to be our personal business. We all know that everything is subject to prying eyes, whether we like it, or not.

Last night I was reading an old issue of World Magazine, (Dec 2010), that had a short piece about “sentiment analysis.” The article said that businesses have been using “sentiment analysis” and that political campaigns are beginning to catch on and use it, too. “Sentiment analysis” is when a software program is used to crawl the web for certain items, such as a product or a candidate’s name. Each time the item is found the program tries to determine if the mention is positive, or not so positive. It’s thought that this is a more accurate way to get opinions than phone polls because apparently more republicans have land lines than other groups. Does this bother me? Not too much. I’m thinking this is not grabbing any personally identifying information. It does make me want to be perfectly clear in my remarks about candidates though, since the article said sometimes the programs aren’t good at picking up sarcasm.

On the same page, I read about a study that was done on how people make friends. The study was published in “American Journal of Sociology.” I wanted to look into this, but I don’t have the right affiliations, and I’m not going to pay $14.00 to buy it so I can read it. Anyway, all I want to know is which university gave out the students’ names. I did find out that the authors of the study are Andreas Wimmer from University of California, Los Angeles, and Kevin Lewis, of Harvard. They “tracked a class of new university students” (wish I knew which school…so curious…) to see how they made friends. They used their photos on Facebook to determine the students’ criteria, whether it was race, or common interests, or friends in common, or what. I’m thinking the university probably sold the list to the sociologists. I doubt that it was given it to them for free. Whichever university this was, along with Facebook, thought it was just fine to do this. The students never knew they were studied. Well, no doubt how I feel about that. It’s very intrusive.

I guess we have to get our news from the United Kingdom, since so many things like this story come from there and not our own media. The UK Guardian had this story about how our government snoops through our email. There are 12,000 orders a year for phone and internet data to be picked up by government snoopers in the US. At least Google lets people know their emails have been handed over. We sure do need to update our old laws that pertain to what we say and what we write.

What I wonder is this: Would the students care if they found out today that they were studied without their knowledge? Does anyone read things any more like “1984” and “Animal Farm”? Does anyone in our government think about the difference between snooping and investigating? I remember when I was about six years old I heard that the Russians had a satellite that could see a matchbox on the sidewalk. I remember standing on the sidewalk in front of my house and thinking about how they could be watching me at that very moment. I didn’t care for the idea. That is snooping and it’s what bad governments do. This earth is populated by flawed human beings, and governments are made up of flawed human beings who need laws to keep them in check. We better make some changes and make them pretty quick.