Online anonymity results in less privacy

January 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Annette Reynolds, sociology instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, refused to allow her face to be published to make a statement against the invasion of privacy introduced by internet technologies.

Annette Reynolds, sociology instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, refused to allow her face to be published in a statement against the invasion of privacy introduced by internet technologies.

The explosion of personal information on the Internet is leading to “Facebook creeping,” new reasons for being fired, and, according to a Kwantlen sociology instructor, public humiliation.

“[Young people are] more inclined to invade other people’s privacy without feeling invasive about it,” said Annette Reynolds.

“There’s a tendency to feel like you can cross social barriers because there’s an anonymity. That’s a kind of cyber-bullying,” Reynolds said, remembering a time when she read hurtful comments on the teacher-rating web site RateMyProfessors. com.

Cyber-bullying is a rising trend, according to a Microsoft Canada Youthography Internet Safety survey released in February. The survey of people from nine to 17 years old found that 40 per cent of Canadian youth had been bullied online, up from 25 per cent in 2004. It also reported that 60 per cent of youth believe people bully because it is “cool.” More than half of the 16 per cent who said they have cyber-bullied another youth said there were no consequences to their bullying.

“Public humiliation is a form of entertainment,” said Reynolds.

Bullying is one of the side effects of an information free-for-all that includes blogs about people’s personal lives, YouTube videos featuring friends, and Facebook pages full of personal info. Privacy has a different meaning than it used to.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say kids today don’t care about their privacy,” said Micheal Vonn, B.C. Civil Liberties Association policy director. “Previous generations never had to think about this stuff because the system was so different.”

In the past, privacy was provided by default before technological advances introduced a plethora of information databases. Now that personal information is required in order to access many Internet services, people must choose between those services and privacy. “What we really want is control,” said Vonn.

The government hasn’t hesitated to take advantage of the new opportunities for control, either. Technology-based surveillance, called dataveillance, is increasing as a form of policing and is a worrisome opportunity for state control, she said.

“The new policing philosophy is, ‘Why don’t we just know a whole lot about everybody all the time. Then we’ll be able to do a risk assessment.’”

Knowing a lot about everybody all the time applies to personal relationships, too. A University of Guelph study released in August indicated that the more time a person spends on Facebook, the more likely they are to become jealous of their significant other because of overexposure to triggers. A person may become alarmed by a comment from someone saying “It was great to see you,” become jealous, and begin “Facebook creeping” that commentator’s profile for more information.

This trend in “Facebook creeping” leads to suspicions, just as government dataveillance does.

“[Data] starts to take on a reality and a life of its own… regardless of if you’ve done anything wrong,” said Vonn.

Employers are pursuing control too, said Michael Cox, who believes he was fired from a probationary bus-driver position with Coast Mountain Bus Company in January because of his blog.

“The company was sensitive to any kind of criticism and certainly sensitive to internal criticism,” Cox said. His blog included information about transit troubles during last winter’s snowstorms. “I think part of it was they wanted to make an example of me.”

He advised bloggers and social media users to speak their minds but remember that their words could affect them professionally. “There is no such thing as true freedom of the press or true freedom of expression. There’s always going to be a limit.”

The costs of censoring personal information that is being published online, such as reduced freedom of speech, need to be weighed against the benefits, which include retaining a job. In today’s digital age, the ability to avoid having personal details on the Internet isn’t always there. “The only way to remain a truly private individual would be to only purchase using cash and to be an electronic hermit,” said Cox.

It’s difficult to remain an electronic hermit, and one result is identity theft. Equifax Canada fraud specialist Vanessas Guillani told the Globe and Mail in June that identity theft went up 500 per cent from 1998 to 2003.

Identity theft is a big problem, but personal problems with identity itself are also on the rise. People can take on various identities through social media, which can result in a loss of self, according to Vonn. Internet game Second Life, which mimics real-world activities, including earning income and building relationships, has been featured in the news as a harbinger of real-life problems. A number of game users have adopted their character and attempted to create a perfect life, only to lose their jobs, friends and family. Some have fallen in love with virtual characters only to learn that the real person was not what they expected.

Sidebar: How to protect yourself

• Read privacy contracts, particularly those regarding health, credit-card and banking information.
• Ask questions or refuse to sign things that don’t seem worth it.
• Consider the implications of your pictures, thoughts and videos before you post them.
• Know your employer’s policies concerning social media.
• Remember that once you publish something online, you can never get it back.

Where have all the computers gone?

October 26, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

When Kwantlen journalism students came back to school in September, 26 four-year-old Apple computers had been replaced in their lab, as well as six in a production rooms reserved specifically for students in the program.

Students didn’t only want to know why the computers had been replaced, they wanted to know where the old computers went, and whether they could get their hands on them.

The answer is maybe.

Juilien Phillips, Graphic Design and Marketing systems supervisor, who worked closely with the Journalism program, told The Chronicle that all of the university’s computers need to be upgraded to newer versions every four years. “[The older computers] would not be able to manage the software we put on them [this year],” he added.

Some computers get distributed throughout the university, where even older versions need upgrades, and the other are put into storage.

That’s where Scott Gowen,, Kwantlen’s Director of Supply and Business Service, comes in. When the computers are put into storage, Gowen is notified. He then liaises between Kwantlen’s IET Department and the B.C. Government’s Asset Investment Recovery (AIR).

Because Kwantlen has a policy that prevents sale of surplus equipment to faculty, staff and students, the unneeded computers have to go to B.C. AIR, or are donated to Afretech, Gowen said. Afretech is an organization based in Delta that was started by two Kwantlen instructors. Its purpose is to collect surplus supplies from places that no longer needed them,  including Kwantlen, and donate them to schools in rural Africa.

Gowen is letting students in on a little secret.

“This November ,another shipment of Mac computers will be sent to B.C. AIR where they will be available for purchase by any member of the public, including Kwantlen employees and students,” he wrote.

The company, which deals with a cash-and-carry program as well as online-auctioning, is offering a “special back-to-school deal on laptops and computers.” The surplus equipment is available at  B.C. AIR warehouses (located in Surrey, Victoria, and Prince George) or through their online auctions.

Information on cash and carry sales and auctions are available at the B.C. AIR website.