Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Risks and Downsides of Information and Communication Technology

by Nick Graham

(source: Wiki Commons)
In the last decade or so, technology has come a long way. Tablets and smartphones have exploded onto the market, with companies such as Apple taking the lead. However, communication and information technology have many risks, some of which are known and others are not.

 Often, those risks are tied up with the benefits. For example, Tesco pioneered the Clubcard approximately 20 years ago. This allows them to see exactly what you buy whether it is in the shop or online, enabling them to send you promotional vouchers that they know you will use. Yes, this is good, but it again gives them an awful lot of information about you. Also, by creating an account for online shopping you have to agree to certain rules. These often include accepting cookies, which are text files that are downloaded onto your computer. When you revisit the site the cookie will send information to the website telling it that this is not your first time visiting, and sometimes what items you have previously viewed on that site. This allows the site to tailor the content of the website especially for you. Again, this may be helpful at times, but by targeting you with tailored adverts or recommendations they make it more likely that you will buy something that you don’t really need, which is never a good idea.

 This seems particularly risky bearing in mind that, although Facebook and other media sites have age limits that are put in place in order to prevent you from accessing / being exposed to content that does not suit your age, all you have to do is enter your date of birth, which is not checked in any way. This means that it is extremely easy for anyone to create an account on any social networking site whether they are allowed to or not. There does not seem to be any point in setting an age limit (such as 13 years old for Facebook), when they have no way of enforcing it. A recent study found that over half of 10 year olds have an account on a social networking site. This shows that we either need to find a way of enforcing the age restrictions or make the content acceptable for all ages.

 And how secure is this data held by big corporations? I am sure that everyone knows about the recent Snapchat information leak, but for those few who have not, early in January this year 4.6 million users had their data leaked to an online database. The Snapchat database was allegedly hacked by SnapchatDB, in an attempt to raise awareness about Snapchat’s lack of good safety measures.

Hacking is a central risk – not just by individual criminals, but large corporations and even by governments. Everyone has heard about the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. But celebrities are not the only victims, nor are newspapers the only culprits. Last December, a US judge ruled that the National Security Agency’s phone tapping of millions of civilians was legal. This is a severe breach of privacy rights, and was done in secret. Yes, this information was collected for the purposes of counter-terrorism, but it violates the US Constitution’s ban on unreasonable search. Surely governments and the law systems are there to protect their citizens’ human rights? According to this verdict, any long-distance communication in the US can be monitored legally by the government. How do we know that governments will use this information for the purpose they say they will? It is a very controversial issue, and one that will surely continue to be debated for a long time to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments with names are more likely to be published.