Unethical Nature of the Internet – Private Information
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UNETHICAL NATURE OF THE INTERNET 2
Unethical Nature of the Internet – Private Information
The internet has been widely embraced in the society today, as it has
become an indispensable tool of managing communications, interactivity,
and connectivity. The discovery of the internet has completely altered the
way people live and work specifically in terms of entertainment, shopping
and communication. The internet makes it possible for people to live
inexpensively by making it possible for them to access news and information
(Merkow & Breithaupt, 2002). However, with only a small amount of
carelessness, individuals could misappropriate their private information and
thereby compromising their security and privacy. This paper analyses the
ethical aspects that have been brought about by the internet. First, there is
an introduction to the concepts of privacy and ethics. Second, there is a
discussion on the ethical issues that surround the internet in the form of
privacy in areas of e-commerce, internet search engines, and social
networking. Finally, measure to resolve the ethical issues are highlighted for
use by the government, internet users and professionals.
Ethical issues on the internet
Ethical actions are those practices that may be termed as acceptable
by the general public. One behavior that is regarded as ethical is that of
ensuring that the privacy of others is observed (Carroll, 2006). Privacy is the
right of doing own things without interference. With the rapid growth of the
internet, the gathering, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of personal
information has become more inexpensive and efficient. There have been
issues that have been raised in regard to the accessibility, and manipulation
of private information. If an individual’s private information in uncontrolled
in terms of usage, circulation and release, then their privacy has been
compromised. The public generally dislikes all actions that would lead to the
misappropriation of information of private information. The presence of such
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possibilities on the internet raises the concerns of internet users with regard
to the safety of their private information while they are online. During online
shopping, using search engines and logging into social networking websites,
private information may be leaked unknowingly.
In an attempt to offer more personalized services e-commerce
websites have increasingly included more personalized features. This has
served to create more steadfast relationships with customers. It has also
increased online sales significantly on a per-customer basis. Survey data
indicates a tendency of individuals to appreciate personalization. On the
other hand, it has raised privacy concerns, which range from discomfort
especially about search engines offering information about their most
frequent purchases to concerns about who may get access to this
information, with more specific fears of identity thieves, co-workers and
government (Merkow & Breithaupt, 2002). Users are also required to offer
their personal data at a website if they need to get personalized services.
This raises concerns about the information. Sometimes users may turn down
such offers on the basis of their privacy. There are various forms of
personalization in e-commerce that are regarded a threat to the privacy of
Implicit and explicit data collection
Implicit data collection refers to that data, which is inferred based on
the user’s habits on the internet (Merkow & Breithaupt, 2002). It is collected
based on the queries placed by a user on the internet, browsing history and
purchase history and may be used to offer further information to the user.
Explicit data collection, on the other hand, is based on the information
that is obtained directly from the user (Merkow & Breithaupt, 2002). The
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user provides information about his demographics, ratings and preferences.
Recommender personalization involves the user by requiring them to rate
certain items in the order in which they interest them. Other sites require
users to customize their pages according to their personal preferences.
Session or task focused personalization – This method places adverts
on sites that relate to them. Adverts may also be provided based on
previous actions. If a user buys items that relate to tennis, more items in the
tennis category are presented.
Profile-based personalization – Some personalization systems create
user profiles and continually add information that is provided either explicitly
or inferentially every time the user visits the website (Merkow & Breithaupt,
2002). Cookies or login details may be used to access the website and to
recognize returning users.
User initiated-some websites require visitors to select customizations
in the form of weather forecasts for their region, stock tickers, or news of
interest. Users may also provide information about page layout that best
suits them or the bandwidth constraints and require that their web pages are
System initiated-Every user has their content customized according to
the information they provide either explicitly or inferentially. Users may be
allowed to opt out of such customizations (Riedl, 2001).
Reliance on predictions
Prediction based – User’s inferred or explicit ratings may be used by
the websites to generate interest based on the profiles of other users. Once
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the system discovers users with similar profiles, such information may be
used to offer recommendation to both users interchangeably (Riedl, 2001).
While not all recommendations end up as sales, they make the user get the
feeling of being understood.
Content based – If a user expresses interest in one item or makes a
request, they may get further recommendations based on such requests
(Scassa, 2014). The request is used as a basis for determining other related
likes so that the retailer attempts to satisfy them.
Some sites use a variety of these methods to maximize user
experience. A good example of such sites is Amazon. There are various ways
that e-commerce poses risk to user privacy (Carroll, 2006).
First, there is unsolicited marketing on the internet. While unsolicited
market may be one of the less severe risks on the internet, it is still among
one of the most mentioned risks on the internet (Fritsch, 2013). The risk
therefore amounts to a sufficient concern for users who do not want
unwarranted marketing. It has even led to the decision by some users not to
engage in e-commerce. Users are also concerned that the information
provided by them during purchases may be used to make targeted
communication or may be made to other companies to make use of on
targeted marketing campaigns. Furthermore, users fear that as a company
gets access to more of their private information, it may get more interested
in advertising to them.
Individuals are also uncomfortable about the automated nature of
customization on the internet. Sometimes as websites try to figure out the
needs of their users, they figure out needs that are completely uninformed
(Levmore & Nussbaum, 2010). In some cases, individuals are not
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comfortable with the possibility of the information of such advertisements
getting into the wrong hands and drawing wrong conclusions. Regardless of
whether the company makes such wrong inferences, some people are simply
uncomfortable with the possibility of being ‘watched’.
Secondly, price discrimination is another problem that arises from
information given online. While there are possibilities that both the company
and the consumer benefit from price discrimination, the response of
consumers to price discrimination is more often negative (Jakubiak, 2010).
Consumers are often concerned about both the aspect of being treated
differently from other people and that of being charged more highly. Price
discrimination also involves the diversion of more private information.
Thirdly, there is risk that user information is accessed by other users
on the same computer (Riedl, 2001). Once a computer user accesses a
website using login details, the computer is able to keep the private
information in the form of cookies such that other users may be use the
computer to access the website unheeded.
There is also the risk of the information in the phone being used
against them in a court of law. Internet records are increasingly being used
as evidence in a wide variety of cases. In cases where the character of the
user is questionable, the information in user profiles, the content of their
posts and their purchases may be used against them.
Information Privacy in Social Networking
Social networking is another great invention that is associated with the
internet. Social networking sites allow individuals to create personal profiles
and share such information publicly (Levmore & Nussbaum, 2010). While
considering putting such information online, the user must consider the level
of privacy that the user is diverging. If the individual fails to utilize the
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privacy settings when posting such information, their privacy is
compromised. In such cases, any internet user is able to access their
information without restrictions. The user is however able to use the privacy
settings to limit the number of people who have access to every part of their
The real concern starts when individuals allow strangers or people who
would not be trusted with their private information to access it (Levmore &
Nussbaum, 2010). If there is no proper control of private information, there
may be unethical attempts to use it. The risks may include blackmailing,
price discrimination, embarrassment, physical stalking, and identity theft
As noted above, one of the risks associated with social networking is
stalking. A social networking profile contains information about the home
location as well as the location of individual posts (Jakubiak, 2010). Users
may also opt to share their location and hence expose themselves to
burglary, robbery or even harassment. The possibilities that such
information may be used to the advantage of criminals makes social media
an ethical issue.
Information Privacy in Search Engines
Social networking sites are required to provide users with links to
websites that contain information that is relevant to them. The topics vary
with the interests of the user in regard to what information they need
(Jakubiak, 2010). Search engines also make it possible for one to access
private information that is placed on any platform online. People however
are uninformed that their private information is contained on the database.
Even in situations where the user is aware of such information being
available on the database, their privacy is compromised when their
information is obtained for unethical reasons.
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The use of search engines further gets complicated as it even makes
available some information whose privacy is limited. Such information
includes membership of certain groups on social media even in cases where
membership is limited (Levmore & Nussbaum, 2010). If the user was
unwilling to share that information, then their information is compromised.
Furthermore, such information may be used against them in different
Measures to counter the ethical implications on the internet
As shown above, the internet has many ethical implications. While it
may be used to do activities that are valuable to individuals and to the
society at large, it also comes with a variety of challenges in information
privacy (Levmore & Nussbaum, 2010). There are three major parties that
must get involved in the process of controlling the problem of information
privacy on the internet.
First, the government should create legislations intended for the
management of various aspects of the internet. Governments should create
legislations that limit the manner in which private information may be
obtained and shared without their permission (Levmore & Nussbaum, 2010).
Legislations will also aid to mend the damage done by carelessness at
assistance of the UN) the public will stand better protected from information
Self-protection by users
Users cannot rely solely on government legislations to deal with the
issue of information privacy. It is also important that users participate in the
process of self-protection by taking a variety of measures:
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i. Private information should only be provided consciously to websites.
Users should explore the purpose for which their information is
required on a website and whether such information will be shared
with other entities.
ii. It is important that users use privacy settings to limit the accessibility
of their private information. Furthermore, users should limit the
information shared on these websites to limit their vulnerability on the
iii. Apply complex and varied passwords to protect personal information
on websites on the internet. This will limit access of personal profile
information and associated elements. It will also limit the number of
profiles a hacker is able to hack.
iv. Enhance security measures by using firewalls and browsers to limit
accessibility of privacy information.
Professionals can also aid in minimizing the impact of information
privacy on the internet. They should minimize the amount of information
provided as well as the ways in which they use the personal information so
obtained (Jakubiak, 2010). They should ensure that they do not get into the
middle of privacy conflicts, as this is capable of limiting the deliverability and
even removal from their job positions for being either unethical or
Professionals should also practice various measures to ensure that user
information is secured:
i. Enable collection of specific information that is important for them
ii. Ensure that information is updated by users every once in a while to
eliminate to ensure that the information in their possession is accurate
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iii. Ensure proper communication about the use of the collected
information and then only ensure that information is only used for the
In conclusion, the internet is an important tool in our everyday lives. It
should, therefore, be managed and controlled to ensure that it will be in use
for a long time. The information presented by internet users should also be
managed to ensure that user data is always fully secured. The internet has
become a threat to information privacy. This has become an ethical issue in
that some private information may be misappropriated. Various platforms
pose a risk to privacy on the internet. These include e-commerce, search
engines and social media. To resolve the issue, various parties should be
involved. The government should create regulations to govern the internet
and the way the information is collected and shared online. Individuals
should increase their awareness of internet risks so as to avoid them.
Finally, professionals should promote ethical practice to avoid conflict with
their employers, the law and the public.
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Carroll, J. (2006). Privacy. Detroit: Greenhaven Press.
Fritsch, L. (2013). The Clean Privacy Ecosystem of the Future Internet.
Future Internet, 5(1), 34-45.