The Modern Form of Eavesdropping: Online Disclosure

It is heavily apparent that when online privacy comes to mind, people often associate it with dangers such as identity theft, trackers and frauds. However, they often disregard the breach of privacy regarding the invasion of our personal lives. (It is safe to say, it doesn’t help that social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare encourage us to over-share every detail of every waking moment of our lives). It is clear to me, that social networking sites have created a modern form of eavesdropping; tapping into other’s covert lives via the Internet. 

From past to present…

According to a study conducted by Phoenix SPI, seven out of ten Canadians believe their protection of personal information has diminished over the past ten years.  Evidently, it is apparent this is due to the increased level of accessibility created by the advancements in technology such as the Internet, Smartphones, tablets and laptops.  We have become vulnerable to exposing private details due to viruses, hackers and even copy and paste functions.  Due to this realization, I have recently had an epiphany – eavesdropping, as we once knew it has evolved alongside with technological advancements.  The internet has made it nearly impossible to maintain personal information as private.

In the 1700’s, if you wanted to spy on another individual’s personal life, you needed to literally place your ear to the eavesdrop to listen in on the hushed conversations that occurred within a home.  The only ‘wall’ that existed back then was the one that stood between the mole and the exploited.  However, in modern society, if you want to snoop another individual, just view their Facebook wall, Twitter feed or Instagram account.

Nothing Online is ever private…

Despite the risks associated with online privacy, I find myself questioning why society continues to expose personal aspects of their lives on social media websites.  Especially, after reviewing my CIS class poll and discovering that a majority of the students deemed that they only had ‘some’ concern over the data that Google/Facebook has collected about them.  I’ve reached two conclusions: Firstly, people are ignorant and unaware of the dangers associated with disclosing personal information. Or, secondly, the public is aware of the consequences but irrationally outweighs the costs and benefits of revealing personal information.  According to Cory Doctorow on TED Talks, we expose personal aspects of our life such as pictures of our family, our pets and our loved ones because we are lavished with attention from others.  It is a form of instant gratification; the more we post the more social reinforcement we receive.  However, it is important for individuals to focus on the long-term cautions of disclosing personal information instead of the instant satisfaction.

For example, at my previous place of employment, one of my co-workers was having a rough day at the office and decided to vent her issues about other co-workers via her Facebook status.   At the time, she felt relief and gratification from several of her friends on Facebook comforting her online. However, she was later fired when a fellow coworker shared this information with our employer.  It just goes to show that ‘private’ social media accounts are not entirely private.  According to Brad Rosen, social media users presume there is an ‘implied contract’ between you and your ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ that only those who you permit shall access your page, and all others are prohibited.  However, the moment you grant others access to your personal information, you are providing them with the risk and possibility that they could share this information with a third party as well. Many would argue that this is an invasion of privacy, but nonetheless, this is a harsh reality of social norms due to modern online forums.

The Infamous Screenshot…

Snapchat, has become a recent phenomenon due to it’s ‘security’ claiming that confidential photos will only be viewed for less than 10 seconds before they disappear forever.  Nevertheless, the ‘screenshot’ is a popular tool used on iPhones, Androids and other Smartphones allowing users to save the shots to their camera feed.  The following video outlines the heavily prevalent risks associated with this app:

Regardless of whether security functions such as ‘copy and paste’, ‘save as’ or ‘reshare’ are disabled – individuals still have the ability to screenshot or print screen private content. Not only are Snapchats not private, but e-mails, images, text messages and even social media feeds are unprotected from being saved to someones hard drive. Some hackers even have the knowledge and power to tap into webcam devices and spy on individuals.

The Inevitable…

When revealing personal details online, it is important to expect the inevitable… glitches.  Just this past week, Facebook exposed nearly six million people’s private content due to a bug in its data archive.  Facebook wished to analyze the data on each contact list to generate ‘friend’ recommendations.  However, during this process, a bug explicitly shared the private contact information to fellow ‘friends’.

Just this past year, a friend of a friend of mine was doing some ‘hardcore creeping’ on her ex boyfriends Facebook timeline.  She came across some inbox messages that were intended to be private between him and another girl dated during the time of their relationship. To her dismay, she discovered that her boyfriend had an affair with this other girl.  Although, she was thankful for Facebook’s bug exposing user’s private messages via timeline, it was a clear violation of privacy.  Facebook denies all allegations and claims there was no breach of privacy.  However, thousands on thousands of its users filed complaints regarding violations of confidentiality.  Despite privacy laws, technological glitches prove that you should trust online privacy as far as you can throw it.

The ‘Black Hole’…

I have always found myself wondering where exactly does my personal information go once I have entered it into the web? I consider the content that it has collected on users to be the ‘black hole’ of the Internet because we are unaware where it is stored.  I was appalled when I discovered that Facebook stores nearly 800 pages of data about each user.  Varying from obvious details, such as your name, friends and date of birth to unexpected data, such as deleted messages, locations you have accessed and lists of comments, likes or ‘pokes’ you have made.  Just imagine the juicy details Facebook engineers witness on a daily basis. The next time you decide to leak personal details to the web, remember the black hole and the risks that coincide with it.


Nothing that you post on the internet will ever be private – one way or another, someone will be able to make it public.


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