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Privacy and Protection: A Conspiracy of the Internet Age

PRIVACY AND PROTECTION:

A CONSPIRACY OF THE INTERNET AGE

ALTHOUGH THIS WEBSITE is primarily dedicated to the study of the paranormal, I have at times touched upon conspiracy, and how many popular theories have evolved throughout the years, bringing to forefront our fears as a society.

The subject of the conspiracy is a complicated and multi-layered one, for there are as many theories as there are debunkers, as many alternative truths on offer as there are facts. The need for society to make sense of the senseless often lies at the root of the conspiracy – take for instance, the tragedy of 9/11. Never before have so many online groups, message boards and activists taken to spreading alternative versions of events, setting off a public narrative barely recognisable from the official version given to us from the US Government.

It was yesterday, as I was attempting to download an app on my smartphone, that the issue of the conspiracy theory was brought to the forefront of my mind. The suggestion that our use of the internet is a sinister ploy to allow those that ‘run the world’ to freely monitor and spy on us is not such a new theory, however it is easy one to ignore, to dismiss, or to be cynical of. Should we, though? What is the reality of online privacy?

The website Statisita claims that 1.79 billion of us use social networks online, including of course Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. When I logged onto my Facebook account yesterday, and tried to download the Messengar app, I was astounded at the amount of ‘Permissions’ I had to give in order to have this simple program on my phone. The list below is not complete, but rather a sample of what I was being asked to share, by simply agreeing to have it on my phone:

– Access to texts

– My Contacts list

– My photos/media/recordings

– Microphone

– Call Information (Who, where, when).

– My Location

In a nutshell, Facebook would be (had I agreed to having the app) able to know where exactly I was, who I was talking to, invade personal text messages, and enable the micrphone device attached to my smartphone to work, remotely.

The above list is one very indicative of online apps, and of social networking sites themselves. Quite often we are asked for personal information, even when that information appears irrelevant to the site in which we are logging into.

The question this raises, in an almost nagging sense in my mind, is why? To what ends do the internet and service providers need such personal information?

There are various conspiracy theories online, fuelled heavily since Edward Snowden leaked US State documents, showing that the internet was being used for “mass surveillance.” Yet it seems that with the development of entertainment gadgets arrives more ways in which we can be spied on – for example the latest Samsung Smart Television comes complete with an in-built microphone. The booklet that comes with the television set freely states that voices will be recorded – and the resulting data will then be sent to third parties.

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With the digital age constantly developing, there are more and more ways for members of the public to be paranoid about Big Brother watching us. Take, for instance, the laptops that take pictures from our webcams remotely and without our permission, or the Playstation that records conversations in the privacy of our homes.

With such information coming to light, theories abound. Type into google, ‘Online spying conspiracy’ and a whopping 725,000 page suggestions load. Amongst the most popular (and the most worrying) theories are those that suggest our governments are using data collected from our internet usage to spy on us, usually under the false guise of protecting us against terrorists. The fear being that our information is not confidential, and can be used against our wishes (for actually using the internet is, in effective, giving them permission to handle our personal details).

Another theory suggests that many popular websites willingly sell personal data collected from unsuspecting internet users to businesses, advertising and various agencies without our permission.

Whatever the conspracy theory that results from the internet, the fact remains that our data is constantly being spilled into the world wide web – and being used, and sometimes stored, against our wishes. If those that were troubled by the novel 1984 by George Orwell do not find these modern advances troubling, one might wonder why. For never before in our world have we become so unwittinlgy entangled in mass-spying.

For social media sites, and the internet in general, to reassure us users, more transparency is needed. Why, exactly, does the Facebook app need access to my microphone or personal text messages? Why do our new smart Television sets need to record conversations in our personal homes? Why do our apps need to know where we are, and who we are talking to?

Until we fully know and comprehend the answer to these serious questions, it may be worthwhile to be wary of the information we freely give away online. It may be easy to be complacent, believing that we are just anonymous data flying around in cyber space, but with the lack of privacy now becoming evident, will there be a greater cost to us a society?

 

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