Approach 2: Is it possible in the Digital Age to maintain personal privacy?
Googles quarterly earnings recently were released before the U.S. stock markets closed. This inadvertent release of information caused enough price volatility that trading was temporarily halted on Google stock. Trading resumed, but by the time markets closed, Googles stock price was down 8 percent.
Google had been Googled.
As with most inadvertent releases of information in the Digital Age, the information could not be pulled back or removed before it had unintended consequences. As anyone who has asked an Internet company to remove private information from a website knows, its not that easy.
Once information is on the Internet, it stays there, often forever.
If this can happen to Google, it can happen to anyone or any organization. A picture a friend posted on Facebook of you at a college party could negatively influence a job interview years later. That blog posting you made in high school could stay with you forever. In 1999, then Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy declared, Privacy is dead. Get over it.
At the time it was provocative; today its prophetic. What can be done about this? Some have suggested legislation (we can cite dozens of examples in which legislation has had unintended consequences), but who really runs the Internet? The Internet spans geographic and geopolitical boundaries; it was designed to route around physical and technological barriers.
Although there are entities that govern the Internet, determine protocols and engineer solutions, no one person, organization or country runs the Internet.
What we suggest are community solutions. Rather than ask governments or Internet companies to restore our privacy, we need to be more proactive with regard to educating ourselves, our children and our students. Before we give students Internet access, we should communicate with their parents and make them aware of the potential consequences .
As parents and information technology professionals ourselves, we realize that the kids often know more about the Internet than their parents. However, our children might not fully understand the long-range consequences of their Internet use.
Our fellow IT professionals should listen to parental concerns and be vigilant with regard to inadvertent release of information, which often is easier said than done.
We inhabit a world where Internet companies collect and store detailed information about our transactions, private information and personal preferences. A data breach by a hacker or an insider can result in the release of information that we wouldnt necessarily want to be public.
Just as Google learned, once information opinions, personal preferences, pictures, video is out there, its hard or impossible to get it back. McNealys comment was more prophetic than we could have imagined in 1999.
Deciding how we deal with the loss of privacy might be our greatest digital challenge in the 21st century.
John Kalbach and Jim Leous work for Penn State Information Technology Services. Their views are their own.