The Internet is plagued by talk of privacy issues. If it's not the accidentally downloaded spyware that's sitting on your computer that raises concerns for you, it's the offshore cold-callers claiming to be from Microsoft - calling to 'fix the problem' they've detected with your computer - that may get you worried. The fact is, if you're switched on and can detect what might be a dodgy caller or a dodgy download, you should be able to surf the web without a worry. Or can you?
Can we trust any website on the Internet?
When a company gets to the size of Google or Facebook, it is scrutinised and placed under a watchful eye every second of the day. When it was discovered Google was recording the details of Wi-Fi networks through its StreetView car, the search giant was rightfully criticised and forced to find a solution.
Whilst we've all come to terms with the fact that there are some untrustworthy websites on the web, we've also come to trust household names like Google and Facebook. But are we right to trust them? Google's 'mishap' relating to the StreetView car just goes to show you that they too, are pushing the privacy boundaries. What's even less impressive is that whilst the 'snooping' was discovered some 3 or 4 years ago, it has taken until now (mid November 2011) for Google to come up with a solution which allows the public to protect their Wi-Fi networks. If you haven't already, you should just change your Wi-Fi network name to include '_nomap' at the end of your network name. Google will see this as an 'opt out' clause and will not collect any information from your network. It's amazing how these companies quietly ask people to 'opt-out' in order to protect their private information. Shouldn't you be 'opted-out' as a default setting? Shouldn't they be asking if you'd like to opt-in in order to take part in their information-collecting process?
It's not just Google...Facebook's been a bit cheeky too
Facebook has also employed shifty tactics in the past. They've been criticised for setting tracking cookies on the computers of those who visit Facebook pages. These tracking cookies are able to record webpages you go on to visit after leaving Facebook - even if you don't actually log into Facebook itself and have never been a user! Your browsing habits are then fed back to Facebook - who've no right to see what sites you've visited outside of their network, if you don't want them to. Numerous Facebook spokespeople have said that this information is used to support their social applications (such as the 'Like' button) but many are also suggesting that the information is helping Facebook create more relevant adverts for its users. Whilst this process will probably benefit us in the long-run (in that we'll be presented with more relevant adverts and content), it also means Facebook will be making money off our browsing habits - which as I've said, they've no right to track outside of their network.
The World Wide Web Consortium to the rescue?
Clearly, what we can take from these revelations is that some of the larger organisations are trying to improve their services but in order to do so, they're employing some rather controversial tactics. I'd be interested to see what comes out of the World Wide Web Consortium, where they're currently hashing out new guidelines for online privacy.