Providing personalization of internet services while still protecting users is a subject that has been much discussed in current times. Web sites have wanted to take advantage of communications on the internet so as to provide customers with personalized information and web services as well as to target advertising. The websites have done so by asking for personal information from visitors and this has made the user suffer a lot due to the inconveniences they suffer because they provide the same information to many people and they neither know who will use the information nor how the information provided will be used. There are many ways in which personal information of customers can be used without necessarily having to give the information each time one visits a website; users can provide personal information once for use by many websites by where the user will be able to maintain its privacy as well as keeping control of its release to various websites. Through this, personal privacy is maintained and there is a provision of a richer and easier way to personalize communications.
As the world wide web becomes an established part of every day’s life, users have become more careful with the way they release their data to the internet, users of the internet have now started to express their wish to retain ownership of their biographical data as well as the record of their actions as a result of using the clickstream. Users are now ready to provide very little or no information at all if the industry is not ready to provide them with a simple and secure mechanism where they can be able to protect their rights against their personal information.
World Wide Web and internet users, therefore, need to be in control of the information which gets disclosed or withheld from a web site, they need to be notified of any profile information which is requested from a particular website, have the authority to choose a person who may use the information, for what purpose and under what conditions. They also have a right to retain any updated information from being published and encrypt their machines to keep them safe from being accessed by unauthorized users. (Dunn, Gwertzman, Layman & Partovi 1997).
Due to all these, many researchers and businesses have engaged in many debates over the use of the World Wide Web and the internet.
One of the current issues surrounding ethical issues surrounding web privacy is the issue of data mining. This is a method of finding an interesting pattern or trend in large data sets which guide a person’s decision on future activities. Data mining takes four steps; the first step is where data owners select a section of the larger dataset and analyze it. Secondly, the data is cleaned by the owners in a systematic process where they remove noise and outliers and enforce a strict policy of data uniformity. The third step is the actual step where the data owners begin data mining so as to be aware of any unknown knowledge or trends which might have been in existence before. The final step is where the data is evaluated through presentation and helps to discover the existence of any interesting yet unknown information.
Organizations, therefore, use data mining to predict how they can plan or market for any future trends which might be expressing themselves in the current times. A professor at Anderson school of business Jason Frand stated that customer-oriented businesses are using data mining to relate the factors which the business controls with the performance of the business and to the various demographics which present themselves so as to improve the business performance.
Although data mining has been praised for being able to solve problems that have brought complexity, many people have criticized it as a technology that can get private information of individuals and other specific records with the hope of finding certain trends and statistics. Another professor issued a paper ‘security and privacy implications of data mining’ and gave examples of how sensitive data is got through data mining. They gave an example of how a company can mine data of a competing company example in the phone directory so as to know the trends of the other company able predict when the company will release a new product in the market. Data mining can also create a hypothetical situation in companies; for example in two paper companies Dedtrees and Big mart, Dentrees company was given access to Bigmart’customer purchase database so that it can be able to supply products to Bigmart more efficiently and effectively; however, Dentrees misused the access to the data by learning rules of Bigmarts customer purchasing pattern and therefore made item associations as also created discounts which were based on the associations. This hurt the market share and led to a reduction in competition level which led to an increase in the cost of any deals made with the dead trees company.
One of the cons that arise from the use of data mining is that it allows companies and organizations to section people into groups, therefore, making decisions regarding customers base on various categories which may be insignificant if handled alone. On the other hand, it is said that putting together categories together results in discrimination against certain customers or a certain class of customers in an organization. (Royakkers & Van 2004).
Another argument that arises as a result of data mining is the provision of data by individuals, those people who advocate for unlimited data mining say that internet users have the right not to provide their information on the websites and if they have given their information voluntarily therefore they should not bring problems when their data is accessed.
However, those against data mining argue that they are already put at risk by the very fact of owning an internet connection since they have to request information from the website and that already puts them at risk because they have to provide some of their personal details so that they can get the data that they want from the website. They say that the argument by those people who advocate for unlimited data mining completely defeats the original purpose of having an internet connection. They further say that although users have their personal choice to provide information, they are incapable of protecting themselves from group profiling which attacks their personal details and limits their individualism. They say that mining personal data should have its limits since a lack of limits would make the privacy of people fall. However, they go ahead to say that data mining should not be abolished completely since it can still provide various benefits without putting the user and the user’s personal information at risk of being misused. (Royakkers & Van 2004).
Ethical issues regarding data mining have been brought to the forefront by the health care industry and the information management policies. In 2002, the health care industry and the information management policies brought a paper referred to as ‘the uniqueness of medical data mining.’ They raise the issue of ownership of data that is collected in the medical field. They say that it is not clear who owns the data; whether it is the patient, the doctor who collected the data, or the insurance company which will be responsible for paying the bill. This, therefore, shows that data mining in the medical field is a bit tricky to keep confidential because the owner is not clearly defined. Laws regarding medical data access have therefore been set so as to ensure that the data is accessed by the right persons in the field.
The ACM code of conduct states that its members should be fair and ensure no discrimination is experienced because unnecessary data mining leads to possible loss of a person’s individuality and they turn out to be discriminated against. The members should therefore be quick to realize the problem and the dangers the software users may be in and therefore protect them from a situation where the ACM code begins to discriminate people and see that all people we created differently and are not equal. The privacy of other people should be respected and their confidentiality should be honored even before knowledge and information can be gained to enhance business. (Jones 1994)
The current ethical issue surrounding web privacy is the issue of web crawlers programs that automatically find data in the websites and downloads it. These search engines are used by many people who are looking for information of commercial value and others who are just casual web users. Much scientific information is also got from web crawlers, they are very powerful tools and they may result in network problems and financial penalties to website owners whose webs are crawled. Website owners can use the robots.txtprotocol which has rules of how web crawlers should operate although it only gives the owners a mechanism to stop crawlers from visiting some pages in the website but not the entire website. In contrast to modern times, the first crawlers were exclusively used by computer scientists who understood the characteristics of the network and the impacts of crawling; however, today crawlers are readily available and site downloaders are designed to crawl individual sites by general users. A key problem with this is that the crawlers lack network knowledge due to the internet complexity an issue that precedes a wider discussion of computer ethics and the privacy of the website owners. (Jones 1994)
The issue arising from crawling is that the owners of the crawled websites don’t benefit directly and bring indirect social benefits to users. Crawling causes the webserver to slow down, therefore, denying other users a good service, it also results in unnecessary costs being incurred by the website owners due to the use of their bandwidth allocation which may result in paying excess money or internet being disabled if the costs are not paid. Crawling also affects the privacy of information due to the aggregation of information into different pages.
Information owners also base their arguments against web crawling by saying that their information is being misused by the crawlers and they are defying their privacy because their information is taken to many other sites making it easily accessible by other people.
Many approaches can be used to address the ethical issues surrounding web privacy and ensure that people’s personal information is safe and cannot be accessed by any person to avoid misuse by people for their personal gains. (Kostler 1993).
For example, schools and technology teachers can play a big role in dealing with issues surrounding web privacy by making sure that they use the technology appropriately. This can be done by modeling and guiding students to carry out practices that are legal and ethical encourage students to investigate the legal and ethical issues that are related to technology and ensure the sources available for students are safe and healthy for use.
Managers can also use the ten commandments of computer ethics which are: thou shall not use a computer to hurt others, don’t interfere with other people’s work on the computer, don’t snoop in other people’s computer files, do not use the computer to steal, don’t bear false witness by using a computer, you should not use proprietary software which you haven’t paid for, you should not use other people’s computer resources without their prior permission, do not appropriate intellectual output of other people, you should think about the social consequences that may arise due to a program or a system that you are designing and finally you should always consider and respect other people when using a computer.
Website owners whose sites are being crawled can get email webmasters who will notify them when their sites are about to be crawled so that they can take action to prevent unnecessary problems and complications of the website. They should also follow the robot’s guidelines and re-evaluate the recommendations for crawling speed so as to ensure that the website is well protected. (Kostler 1993).
Technology managers should also involve all the stakeholders in managing websites and protecting their privacy; users should be involved and advised on how to protect their details by having private passwords to their work so as to ensure other people don’t access the work. The owners should also be advised on how to protect their websites to avoid unnecessary costs which may lead to their closure and also to ensure that their websites are accessible and easy to maintain. Those who misuse web privacy should also be advised on the legal and ethical issues that surround web privacy so that they can be aware of the harm that they are doing to the data owners and the website owners.
In conclusion, ethical issues on web privacy have been met with contrasting ideas and comments by different people. There are those who argue that the internet users should be the ones who should know whether to give their information or not and also limit the amounts that they should provide on the websites. On the other hand, arguments arising say that the users have no choice but give their information if at all they want to use any information on the websites. Issues such as data mining and internet crawling have been discussed and give a lame light to the ethical issues regarding web privacy.
Managers, owners, and users are also guided on how to ensure web privacy and protection of information from being misused.
Dunn M, Gwertzman J, Layman A& Partovi H, 1997, Privacy And Profiling On The Web, Web.
Jones R A, 1994, The Ethics of Research in Cyberspace. Internet Research: Electronic Networking Applications and Policy, 4(3), 30-35.
Koster M, 1993, Guidelines for Robot Writers. Web.
Royakkers L & Van W R, 2004, Ethical Issues in Web Data Mining. Ethics and Information Technology. 6.2: 129-140.