The every-increasing number of users on social media websites as well as the ever-increasing number of online shoppers increases the already-present concern regarding privacy on the Internet. Privacy on the Internet can also be thought of as information privacy, which can be defined as “one’s ability to control information about oneself” (Bélanger & Crossler, 2011, p. 1018). This has resulted in the fact that the “issues surrounding privacy are myriad and of a varied nature” (Bélanger & Crossler, 2011, p. 1018). One of the questions that arise related to Internet privacy is: who is responsible for protecting individual’s Internet privacy? Many people believe that the websites they use should protect their privacy. However, this paper argues that individual users themselves are responsible for their privacy.
The definition of information privacy states that it is the “ability to control information about oneself.” This means that the individual has the ability to release or withhold information. Admittedly, in some contexts, like online shopping, sensitive information like debit/credit card information must be released. In fact, “personalized web services” like online stores “require the collection and mining of unprecedented amounts of personally identifying information” (Hong & Thong, 2013, p. 276). However, in the case of social networking websites, the amount of information shared with and in the public forum depends on the user. No one and nothing forces users to provide potentially sensitive information. Nothing about the site compels the user to post more than they want to.
In addition to recognizing their own ability to release and withhold information, users must make themselves familiar with the privacy policies made available by the services they use. For example, Facebook makes its privacy policies and privacy settings available to users. However, it is the responsibility of the user to read and understand the policies. Research has shown that an individual’s perception “of his or her concern for how personal information is handled by websites” differs from “his or her expectation of how websites should handle” personal information (Hong & Thong, 2013, p. 276). In other words, the user thinks that websites should take every possible measure to protect the user’s personal information; however, the user is not necessarily “genuinely concerned about providing” personal information to that website (Hong & Thong, 2013, p. 276). The difference between how the user perceives privacy and how they expect the websites to respect or protect that same privacy results in a misunderstanding on the user’s part of the responsibility of the websites. This, in turn, means that the user does not really appreciate their responsibility regarding their own privacy. This may lead to careless behavior on the part of the user.
Research indicates that consumers are “vulnerable in their dealings with businesses” because they do not understand how businesses use their information and “an inability to control the subsequent use of their personal information” (Hong & Thong, 2013, p. 277). Consumers must educate themselves about privacy policies and how their information is used. They must also educate themselves on what rights and control they do have in the context of businesses and the information those businesses acquire and use in the course of their dealings.
In conclusion, users must take responsibility for their Internet privacy. They can in the context of social media websites control what content they contribute and therefore take an active role in controlling what people see. In addition to that, consumers are not adequately educated about privacy policies from the sites they use, and their perceptions and expectations vary widely. This difference means that users don’t really understand or appreciate the consequences of their online behaviors. Users need to educate themselves on privacy policies and their rights in those policies. Users can control themselves, their content, and their privacy.
- Bélanger, F., & Crossler, R. E. (2011). Privacy in the digital age: A review of information
privacy research in information systems. MIS Quarterly, 35(4), 1017-A36.
- Hong, W., & L. Thong, J. Y. (2013). Internet privacy concerns: An integrated conceptualization
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