Introduction to the subject of Ethics of Online Privacy

An introduction to readers and netizens on the subject of ethics of online privacy.


(Photo Credit: HealthWorksCollective)

1) Omer Tene is an Associate Professor at the College of Management Haim Striks School of Law, while Jules Polonetsky is a Co-Chair and Director of the Future of Privacy Forum.

On privacy and big data, they say:

The principles of privacy and data protection must be balanced against additional societal values such as public health, national security and law enforcement, environmental protection, and economic efficiency.

“The tasks of ensuring data security and protecting privacy become harder as information is multiplied and shared ever more widely around the world,” they add. “Information regarding individuals’ health, location, electricity use, and online activity is exposed to scrutiny, raising concerns about profiling, discrimination, exclusion, and loss of control.”

Source: The Ethics of Privacy Protection

Source: Privacy in the Age of Big Data

2) Here are 4 basic, key things that you should do to protect your online privacy:

  • Take control of the amount of personal information that you provide online. Every time you are asked to provide personal information, consider both the risks and the benefits.
  • Educate others about the importance of online privacy and the various steps they can take to protect it. The process of maintaining as much online privacy as possible must be a communal effort for the common good.
  • Get informed about laws and other types of measures that impact online privacy — advocate for the ones you support.
  • Put your money where your privacy is: let companies know that you value your privacy and that you will take your business elsewhere if they don’t.

Source: How to Protect Your Online Privacy

3) This article from Lifehacker explains how we ruin our privacy online every day. Here are a couple of tips on taking precautions:

  • As we all know, broadcasting your location when you’re not at home is problematic. Keep a careful eye on which apps want access to your location.
  • Sites like Facebook, Google and Twitter track what you’re doing on the web to get a better idea of your behavior and serve up personalised ads. They usually do this through cookies, and we make it even easier for them to track what we’re doing by never logging out of these social networks. The good news here is that a browser extension like Disconnect (edit: or TheGoodData) is all you need to make sure companies aren’t snooping on your browsing data without you realising it.

Source: How to Protect Your Online Privacy

4) The Economist Intelligence Unit reported that consumers worldwide are becoming increasingly concerned about the security of their data online.

According to Jane Frost, CEO of Britain’s Market Research Society: “Innovative use of data for research and for big business is developing rapidly, but approaches to data privacy are not — and this is creating an ethical gray area. Consumer trust in data sharing is taking a beating, and organizations need to commit to ethical data sharing that respects personal privacy or risk jeopardizing their relationship with consumers. Ethical business is good business.”

Ethical business is good business.
— Jane Frost (Market Research Society, CEO)

Source: Information Week

6) The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development.

Read about their work and see how you can take action!

Website: EFF (About Us)

Website: EFF (Work)

Website: EFF (Take Action)

Nuala O’Connor & Alan Henry on Privacy

We previously featured MIT PhD candidate Jean Yang and her perspectives on the subject of privacy.

Featured on the blog today are Nuala O’Connor (@privacymama / CEO of @CenDemTech) and Alan Henry (@halophonnix / Deputy Editor @LifeHacker).

Here’s their QnA on why privacy matters!

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TGD: Why are you passionate about privacy?

nuala oconnor

Nuala O’Connor | Pic from @privacymama


“It’s my children’s future that makes me truly passionate about privacy.

I’m committed to helping shape a world where we are not forced to cede all of our privacy, and where our personal thoughts, expressions, and communications are not all collected by the government.

We need private spaces to create, to grow, and to be human. Even in an always on, always connected world, I am confident we can achieve a balance both between privacy and surveillance, and between information sharing and innovation.”

Nuala O’Connor is a mom, tech diva, and CEO of The Center for Democracy & Technology. Follow her on Twitter @privacymama.

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TGD: Why are you passionate about privacy?

alan henry

Alan Henry | Pic from Lifehacker


“I’m passionate about privacy because at its core, privacy is a basic human right, but not in the way that most people think. Most people think privacy is this amorphous ability to keep your personal business to yourself without being watched, but it’s much more than that. Privacy gives us the freedom to keep our actions—from the library books we read to the things we buy online—from having any impact, positive or negative, on the rest of our lives. It gives us the freedom to grow and change our opinions, and learn new things and look back on the way we used to be without fear that what we used to say and think will haunt us. It gives us the option to choose when we’re marketed to, and when our information is marketable, rather than have that dictated to us by the people looking to make money on us, or take our money from us.

In essence, privacy is about the ability to control your own destiny, and how you interact with the world around you—from other people, to the companies you patronize, to the government you live under. It’s about being able to actively steer that destiny, without taking a backseat to it with the illusion of you having had some input.”

Alan Henry is Deputy Editor @Lifehacker and the classiest geek you’ll ever meet. He tweets @halophoenix.

Jean Yang on Privacy

We recently contacted a few industry experts to share their opinions on a subject that matters to them.

Featured on the blog today is Jean Yang — a final-year PhD  student at MIT and Harvard alumnus. Her research interests include programming language design, and privacy and security. She was in a Gigaom Structure podcast in January 2015, discussing internet misogyny and programming for privacy.

Here’s what she had to say!


Jean Yang | Photo by Daniel Jackson

TGD: Why are you passionate about privacy?

JEAN YANG: This is a good question. I am interested in privacy because I’m deeply interested in people sharing information with each other.

I love the social spaces that the internet creates. I’ve had an email address since 1995 and a website since 1997. I’ve always loved the random connections I make online that sometimes turn into very real friendships. Through encouraging my friends to do more online, I’ve realized that reliably preserving privacy is a crucial part of making people feel comfortable enough to participate in online spaces. We’ve got a long way to go and I’m excited to work on solving this problem.

Another reason I’m interested in privacy is because I think there is a *ton* of very cool data that we can have our hands on if people trusted us to preserve their privacy. Right now, there are interesting public data sets about things that are already pretty much public: for instance, census data on how people live and how people commute. Every now and then people with access to more secret data will do something fun with it. A great example of this is OKCupid analyzing dating profiles and messages to bring us data-backed stories on how people represent themselves and court each other online. Imagine a world where this kind of data could be made public for anyone with spare time to analyze–while preserving guarantees about the privacy of individual people. I don’t know whether such a world is possible and what exactly it would take to get there, but I’m excited to see what happens.

Finally, it’s just really intellectually fun to think about how information flows in order to reveal secrets. I like designing programming models because I like thinking about how people should think. Applying this to privacy means I get to think about how people should think about how secrets gets revealed. Meta fun. 🙂

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Thanks to Jean for sharing her insightful thoughts! Stay updated with her posts and projects via the following links.

Jean Yang Online: Website | Twitter | Quora | Github