We teens spend so much time online that we have become the biggest target for web advertisers. Companies are willing to do anything to reach us through the Internet, including exploiting our personal information.
Unsurprisingly, many Americans do not want companies to know too much about them. According to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 68 percent of those interviewed said they would disapprove of an online search engine keeping track of their queries for the purpose of providing personalized search options in the future.
Like Google, Facebook also helps its advertisers reach their target audiences by generating a unique set of ads for users based on their previous actions on the site. Other companies like Apple and various other web-based developers have similar practices.
While some appreciate targeted ads, others fear the risk of companies expanding their research into our confidential information, such as medical conditions, political and religious affiliations, and even private relationships. Such in-depth snooping can have serious consequences. Last year, Gawker reported that a high-level Google engineer had been using user information to stalk four underage teens through the Internet. Not only was he able to tap Google Voice conversations, but he was even able to access their contact lists. He was fired in July 2010 after his actions were discovered.
However, some argue that when users consent to Terms of Service agreements, they give companies like Google the authority to dig through their personal information.
Unfortunately, the average Terms of Service agreement is simply too long. A typical Apple agreement has over 15,000 words. These agreements are not only too long to read, but also often riddled with confusing legal jargon and can change without any advanced notice.
To protect their privacy, users can utilize several options on their computers. Internet browsers like Mozilla Firefox offer privacy options that prevent third party websites from tracking Internet usage. Users can also disable tracking cookies (small files that websites store on home computers that document browsing activity). However, these are only temporary solutions that do not completely protect you from nosy marketers.
Many legislators are taking action to regulate the activities of such companies. After authorities discovered an Apple-approved mobile collecting information from customers without their permission, the California Department of Justice oversaw an accord promising that app developers would disclose how they would use private data before customers download their apps.
The American Civil Liberties Union offers an online petition urging companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook to respect users’ privacy.
Students can also urge state representatives to devise and propose Internet privacy legislation in Congress. The Obama administration has already unveiled an Internet Privacy Bill of Rights, which would require Internet companies to make their rules easier to understand and limit the amount of data websites can gather.
Teens should be concerned for their privacy because as children of the Facebook generation, a lot of minors’ personal information is involuntarily surrendered to websites. Without our clear consent, corporations are invading our privacy merely for economic gain. It is time to tell Google and other companies that as customers, our rights come first.