Should you have a reasonable expectation of privacy on the Internet?

Recently we asked, “Should you have any reasonable expectation of privacy with Gmail?”, now there is a bigger question, “Should we expect privacy on the Internet at all?”

Computer Key With Privacy Policy (Stuart Miles)In a recent post, Michele posed the question, “Should you have any reasonable expectation of privacy with Gmail?”. It was in relation to an ongoing class-action suit against Google for perceived privacy infringements.

Considering the many services out there for which there are privacy concerns, coupled with the recent revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly gathering data from a variety of sources (including email, telephone and social media), the question we should ask is whether you should expect privacy on the Internet at all?

Email is not the only online service that threatens your privacy. Your Amazon shopping, Facebook updates, Dropbox files and Google searches are all areas of concern. Recently, a couple’s home was raided by SWAT when they searched for “pressure cookers” and “backpacks”.

Further, for files on Dropbox, the Terms of Service (TOS) says that “Dropbox employees are prohibited from viewing the content of files,” but goes on to say that they have “a small number of employees who must be able to access user data”. Several months ago there was a huge brouhaha about who owned the files on Dropbox. Yet, after all of that, people went right on using Dropbox, and they are still rapidly growing.

We’ve actually given up some privacy for more convenience. Google analyses your browsing history so it can display ads that are relevant to you. Amazon analyses your shopping habits to recommend products that you might find useful (although it can be debated whether that is a good thing). Dropbox analyses your files so that they can perform de-duplication, which reduces their storage requirements and thus allows them to offer you free space.

Are you willing to give these up? Or can we have the best of both worlds? Convenience and security? Privacy and free services? It would be nice, but I don’t think we can.

What do you think? I am interested in hearing your views.


Image credit:  Stuart Miles /



  • No and I don’t expect it. The internet is a public domain and more of us need to realise that. If its online someone else can see it . Scary but true. Like Eric Schmitt suggested some years ago if its private and you dont want other to see it then you probably should not be doing it online. Yes we have given up privacy for convenience results of laziness and being cheap.
    I don’t like the thought of it and wrestled with it for sometime but the convenience won me over. I do however try to be a careful as possible with my personal data which is what I think persons need to be educated on.Especially with sites such as Google and Facebook.

    I missed the gmail article I shall go find it.

  • Cyber-world should mirror the “real” world. In the real world there are always people watching you, minding your business, listening to overhear what you say, following you etc. Also the police are watching you and everyone trying to prevent crime. The same goes for the cyber-world you are being watched but as in the real world your home is your castle. So everyone in cyber-world also needs a castle where they can do private things out of public view. An online home-space so to speak is what we should be clamouring for? There a quote that says “Anyone who is willing to surrender freedom for security, deserves neither”

    • I agree with you. It was Benjamin Franklin who said that ~ “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

      We should have privacy, but to do that, we must do the things necessary to have that security, and not trust others to provide it for us.

      An interesting question for you, do you think the American Revolutionary War could have happened, if the level of surveillance we have now, existed then?

      Privacy also allows revolutionary things to take place.

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