Part 1: Introduction
Privacy defines the capacity of individuals to conceal themselves or information about them. People regard a private matter as being inherently special and pertaining to the individual being or a group of people with collective interests. In this regard, the domain of privacy encompasses certain aspects such as information security as well as the need to secure information form access by unauthorized persons (Smitt et al., 2011). Various countries have privacy laws that may limit privacy in some cases in which privacy of an individual is in conflict with freedom of speech laws. In some cases, the privacy laws may require disclosure of private information. Through the years, there has been an increasing concern about privacy which justifies the existence of rules and laws on privacy. These rules and laws have been developed against the backdrop of invasion of people’s privacy following the emergence of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
The use social media and other networking sites have opened floodgates of various ethical issues. Whereas these sites have been beneficial, the existence of associated risks cannot be underrated (Quinn, 2014). This paper is developed in light of this development. It explores the subject of privacy in the context of the prevailing information age. The paper tackles the aspect of ethics and how it relates to information technology and privacy. Ethics involves what should be considered ‘best practice’ when using information via social media and other networking sites. In addition, this paper examines how people can be educated to deal with privacy in an ethical manner and the steps that should be taken to protect the privacy of the user and prevent the occurrence of old mistakes. The paper concludes by giving suggestions on how people’s awareness can be increased in the privacy age.
Part 2: Literature Review
Meaning of privacy
Most philosophers have tried with relative success to define privacy. These definitions regard the use of data while observing the ethical practices that promote the privacy of an individual. Lenhart and Madden (2007) defined privacy as the right to be free from secret surveillance. It encompasses the freedom to determine the time, the means and to who should receive an individual’s personal information. The authors divided privacy into different categories including physical, informational, decisional and dispositional. The physical category involves placing a restriction on other people from experiencing a person or a situation through human senses. Informational category places restrictions on discovering unknown acts. Decisional category places restriction that bars interference on decisions that are exclusive to an individual or an organization while dispositional category places restrictions on attempts that are aimed at knowing the state of mind of an individual.
Studies by Smith et al. (2011) defined privacy as being secluded from the view of others. While recognizing the categories of privacy outlined in the works of Lenhart and Madden (2007), the authors observed that an individual is entitled to his privacy provided the privacy does to prejudice or violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. People should have the freedom to exercise their privacy. Acquisti and Gross (2006) observed that it is imperative to uphold high ethical standards when dealing with the privacy of people. Such demonstrations of high ethical disciplines should take place in the context of the use of social media. Social media gives users a chance to interact with many other users around the world. This means that there is a large database of information shared across many users in the social media.
Best et al. (2006) opined that individual privacy has come under attack in the recent years. Such attacks are carried out in a computer-held data compared to data found in papers. The development of information technology has led to increased cases of abuse of individual privacy. There have been virtual explosion of various methods that people, can use to collect, steal and share information without the consent of the author. This is because the information about a person has become very important in transacting business the present world. People can access such information by use of social media platforms due to their limited privacy laws. Such information include auto loan, information on mortgage and apartments, and credit card.
Protection of information in social media
Many studies have indentified various ways by which information can be protected from malicious access. Social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp have registered widening popularity across the globe. This means that information that shared via these sites may be prone to invasion by other individuals. Spam bots, criminals and vindictive acquaintances can take advantage of the information shared advance sinister motives with it. Smitt et al. (2011) identified ways by which information can be protected. These protection measures include:
Keeping full name and address to self: Research indicates that 66% of social media users indicate when they are going to be away from home or reveal about where they will be in the next month of year. This information can be used by criminals to advance malicious aims. It is recommended that users should avoid making such comments on social media. Some users also post the names of their children and grandchildren of social media sites. Such information is not limited to names but also include photos. Users are reminded that such information is not necessary in social media sites.
Smitt et al. (2011) cautioned that people should avoid giving out sensitive information freely on social media. Issuing privacy rights on social media sites gives rooms for criminals to track such information with intentions of accessing sensitive personal information. In this regard, people should be take precautions and avoid posting such information. While carrying out research on networking sites, Belanger and Crossler (2011) pointed out that most sites are interested in terms that favor them. In this regard, users should opt for choices that are right for them.
Access to privacy
Studies by Belanger and Crossler (2011) revealed that personal information can be collected by a variety of methods. Personal information contained in people’s file at workplaces can be catalogued in their income and educational details. Due to the availability of personal information across various platforms, various legislations have been enacted to reduce incidences of identity theft and protect consumer information from malicious access.
Best et al. (2006) identified groups of people that collect personal information. These groups include marketers, websites, warranty cards and store clerks. The centrality of marketing in the success of s business cannot be gainsaid. Business people are developing various ways through which they can capture the minds of their target market by sharing information specific to their tastes and preferences. Various techniques are being advanced that help in compiling a marketing list about customers. These techniques are available on the internet. Thus, marketers can access information about customers with the aim of persuading them to prefer their products and services. Lenhart and Madden (2007) posited that companies buy the list of individuals that are likely to be interested in the products of services that they offer. In so doing, the companies use the list to market their products to their target market. Mobile services providers top the list of companies that provide phone details of subscribers for use by other companies that seek to promote their products.
The work of Acqusti & Gross (2006) revealed that while marketers may have access to information about customers, the general intention of marketers is always positive. Their focus is based on maximizing their returns by convincing customers. Various websites have been developed to gather information about customers. An unsuspecting internet user may visit a website with an intention of seeking information. In some cases, the website may not always be safe. Such websites have been designed to lure users into revealing information about their identities. They use various techniques to detect information about the user. This information may be used to pursue malicious goals. Store clerks need information about people’s phone numbers and zip codes during purchases. This information can be used by marketers for marketing purposes. Best et al. (2006) contends that people should be careful when giving out any information that pertains to privacy. This is because such information may be used to advance goals and objectives by people with bad intentions. Despite the benefits attached to information age, there are risks that come with this age. Protection against these risks can reduce the problem of invasion of privacy.
Part 3: Discussion
Protection of information
Belanger and Crossler (2011) observed that some companies usually provide choices on the use and dissemination of information about an individual. In most companies, these choices are found in the company’s booklets which guide the users on the best options to make. In this regard, a company that gives information about an individual without their consent can make the individual to opt out. It is incumbent upon organizations to ensure that information about an individual is kept safe and that necessary procedures are followed in handling such information. The information should not only be accessible but also accurate.
The security of information is a matter of concern. Social media sites that require information about the user have a mandate of safeguarding information of their users. Users, on the other hand, expect that such information would be protected under the privacy agreement. Any invasion of an individual’s privacy is tantamount to a serious ethical concern (Quinn, 2014). In this regard, organizations need to maintain a protected access to information. Many cases have been reported about the breach of security. This explains why users should enter privacy agreements with organization with which they want to share information about their privacy. In addition, information is about an individual. While sharing information to organizations or social media sites, it is important to determine if the information shared benefits the individual.
Privacy and ethics
There is a direct relationship between the use social media and ethics. Ethics involves the rightness of an action. Users of social media sites have an obligation to use the site in a manner that does not compromise the ability of others to use it. However, in some cases, ethical issues usually arises reading user privacy in social media (Quinn, 2014). For example, an internet user can log into his Facebook account and share good or bad news. After a short time, the number of friends on this account increases. This is because every moves that an internet user makes in the social media platform leaves behind cyber footprints. These footprints provide ground for other people to carry out research without the authority of the user.
The use of social media for academic research purposes triggers many ethical issues that ought to be examined. Private companies collect a lot on information from social media. These companies include Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft. Researchers have attempted to examine the relationship between parents and their kids through Facebook. The ethical question raised includes the failure by these companies to seek the authority of the user before they authorize such research activities. Some studies revealed that 71% of Faceboook users draft posts by other people (Quinn, 2014). In this regard, issues such as copyright and intellectual property rights arise. If 71% of people can post comments that are not originally theirs, what is the guarantee that most online research is original? This simply means that Facebook has permitted an illegality. This illegality is characterized by copying information from other sources and directly posting as original work. It has provided a haven for which the works of scholars can find their way into social media platforms (Best et al., 2006). This constitutes an ethical problem.
Quinn (2014) revealed that Facebook and Microsoft are apprehensive about issues of privacy. This is because Facebook is founded on what is originally private. For example, an author may write an inspiring piece of information and publish it on his private blog. After sometime, this piece of information may be found by an online reader who may wish to share it on his Facebook wall so that his friends can see. Facebook and Twitter have options upon which information can be shared. In this regard, the Facebook users that access the inspiring piece of legislation can easily share it out among their friend s. Consequently, what began as a private note spreads throughout special media. This explains why most private issues about senior government officials go viral over social media. Platforms such as Instagram have also been used to share private information. It allows users to send photos of their friends. The danger with this platform is that information can wrongly be conveyed.
Educating people to deal with privacy in an ethical manner
Educating people to deal with privacy should take cognizance of the ethics. Education promotes awareness on the benefits and risks associated with social media. People can be educated through programs that seek to promote awareness and understanding of issues that arise regarding the use of social media and other networking sites. Such programs can be carried out via radio programs or television shows to help alert people on the challenges of social media (Acquisti & Gross, 2006). While providing such education, it is imperative that ethical perceptions about the use of social media be explored. This would help to develop an ethical response to issues regarding the privacy of information on social media. The results of education should be evaluated on the basis of the number of people who respond to the call to conceal sensitive information about them.
Preventing old mistakes
In the past, the use of social media and other networking fundamentally violated the essence of privacy. Users of social media were exposed because of limited mechanisms to conceal their privacy. This exposure constituted old mistakes that should be prevented. Quinn (2014) identified three mistakes that should be avoided while using social media sites: They include unreported endorsements, making anonymous comments and compromising the privacy of the customer. Issuing compensation to bloggers constitutes compensated endorsements. Such endorsements should be disclosed. Wal-Mart experienced negative publicity when it was reported that it paid a blogger write positive stories about the retailer (Quinn, 2014). Making comments on social media with anonymous is a risky affair. These anonymous contributions are likely to raise questions in the minds of customers which may ultimately affect business. The third mistake to avoid is compromise the privacy of the consumer. When consumers feel that their privacy has been disclosed, their loyalty shifts to alternative service providers.
Increasing people’s awareness
It is imperative to increase the awareness of people in the new age of information. People should be sensitized on the best social media sites that respect their privacy. This would help them to make the best decisions that can promote and enhance their privacy (Lenhart & Madden, 2007). People should recognize the value of privacy and make efforts to uphold it while using social media platforms. Keeping private information away from the public helps to reduce incidences of crime that have plagued social media industry.
Part 4: Conclusion
This paper sought to examine the meaning of privacy in the new information age. The paper explored the relationship between privacy and ethics. The study reveals that various ethical questions have emerged regarding the use of social media and other networking sites. These ethical issues include unlawful access to information about individuals, groups and organizations. The paper also explored various ways through which privacy can be protected. These measures include keeping personal information away from the public, sensitizing the public about the dual consequence of social media use and avoiding anonymous comments in the case of companies or business entities. The study concludes that increasing people’s awareness in the information age would protect the privacy of information.
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