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The Debate With Online Surveillance

Internet Privacy

The Debate with Online Surveillance

            The topic of online surveillance has long been an issue up for debate. According to Merriam-Webster, surveillance can be defined as, “close watch kept over someone or something,” (Merriam-Webster), So that begs the questions, is there anything that is really, truly private that you can do on the internet, or does every website you go to have someone watching your every move? Are these listed in the terms and conditions, something which not very many people read? There are many questions regarding this topic, and looking into I and examining is going to reveal a lot of information to me, and will help me better understand this topic as a whole.

            Many scholarly articles point out that many social networking sites, including sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all likely feature some sort of surveillance, watching what its user are doing while on the app. There are morally right and morally wrong things about this. Some think that if it’s in the terms of conditions of using the app or site, then it’s alright, because it gave you a warning. However, some still view it as invasion of privacy, and they feel the app is necessary to have in their lives, so they are still going to get it. In talking about privacy within social media, and article states that, “Firstly, no one can deny that the primary driver behind social media participation is still largely our own selfish need to be heard and connected,” ( ). My interpretation of this statement is that the author believes that if we are willing to share what we do on social media in order to be heard, then having privacy be extremely strict shouldn’t matter to us, depending on how much we post. Either way, there are people who get the app that are in acceptance of the surveillance, and there are those that get the app that are not in acceptance of the surveillance. This has long been debated by many people, and it seems to only be growing as time goes on, just because of how advanced it has in fact gotten.

            As talked about above, one of the main things that make this such a controversial topic is the fact of whether it is morally right to have internet surveillance, or morally wrong to. According to Merriam-Webster, Morals can be defined as, “of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior,” or, “capable of right and wrong action,” (Merriam-Webster, ). So, the main question is, are these companies who are watching your every move on their sites within the principles of the right behavior, or are they in the principles of the wrong behavior. There are multiple perspectives that can be said for this, and that’s why I believe this is such a decent topic to discuss. Since these companies own their product, some people believe that gives them all the right in the world to do whatever they want with the app, whether it means surveilling it, charging for it, and other things like that. After all, if you created an app or something else, wouldn’t you want to see what it’s being used for, and how it’s being used? It does make sense, although just to be safe, many of these people believe that these companies should be including the fact that there is a potential to be watched on their app or website in the terms of conditions that all users must accept before being able to download the app itself. That is a legitimate argument, and one that is certainly had on this topic. However, there is, of course, the other side of the argument. This can definitely be seen as a complete invasion of privacy, and it can also make people uneasy and more unwilling to use an app or site because of it. After all, if I know that these companies could always see whatever I’m looking at, it would make me a little bit uneasy as well. If they are getting paid by all these users downloading the app, why do they have to continue to monitor what is going on, since as said above, they are getting paid regardless. So, those are the two main points of view that this topic elicits in terms of morality, and that is also one of the main reasons why this topic is so interesting and such a good one to debate amongst ourselves.

            From the scholarly article, “Rethinking privacy,” by Dourish and Bell, the reading talks a lot about how privacy and privacy culture has advanced to become what it is today. What it has become today is that of these companies watching over all activities on their sites and on their apps. One thing that we have not talked about that the reading brings up is that of how privacy can be different in different cultures. From the reading, “We argue here that privacy is differently constituted—not simply differently implemented—in different cultures. That is, it is not just that different people have different ideas about what things should be private but rather that around the world there are clearly different ways in which privacy is mobilized, made sense of, and managed,” (Dourish & Bell, 2011, 139-140). In context, right before this quote, there was an anecdote one of the authors had told about an experience that they had in Beijing, where certain questions may be acceptable to ask in America, but would not be acceptable to ask in Beijing, and vice versa, of course. To go back to the quote, privacy is culturally appropriated in different places, as well as it being differently implemented by parents and their children that they are guiding. Furthermore, privacy is differently enforced and implemented around the world. For example, we know in America that online surveillance is allowed, although frowned upon by some. However, in other places, it could be socially and morally accepted by all parties, or vice versa, AKA it could be socially and morally frowned upon by all parties. Another article on privacy says, “Operators of various social media outlets are well aware that their profits may increase as we expand our willingness to share personal information about ourselves,” ( ). This quote is saying how the more media people share on their social media accounts, the more profits a potential app can make. This might affect the companies view on privacy and how they are willing to use it.

            Another one of the subtopics mentioned above was whether it was in these company’s legal rights to be able to watch their apps and websites, checking I on what people are doing. One of the articles from class talked a little bit about this, just in a different way, but I am going to connect them. The reading talks about the New York Times, and how they aren’t perfect, which is equivalent to what these surveilling companies can be viewed as. To quote, “Their companies are not perfect, just as the New York Times is not perfect. Fifty years from now, though, we will remember these lawyers and their impact on how millions of people experience freedom of expression,” (Ammori, 2013, 2262). To connect this quote to my topic, the companies running Instagram and twitter and these other sites and apps that use online surveillance, they are not perfect, but their freedom to do what they want on their apps are being expressed here, and I don’t think that there is an easy argument to make against that statement. Another reading that I found talked about whether or not it’s in the first amendment right of these companies to use online surveillance. The article states, “In 2017, it’s really unsupportable to not give internet companies like my clients a full First Amendment set of rights that they would give to any other speaker,” ( ). This article relates back to the topic because it talks about the legal rights of these companies. In my opinion, if they own the app, it is in their right to use surveillance on their websites.

            There is a third article that talks about the topic of privacy and how companies can or can’t use certain things against their users. The reading states, “Monitoring, in this context, refers specifically to the collection of information, with or without the knowledge of users, that has actual or speculative economic value,” (Andrejevic, 2007, 297). This quote is obviously talking about the idea of monitoring and information gained from monitoring, which refers back to the topic at hand here. More specifically, the statement of the user not having to know that information is being collected sticks out a lot, which is when it comes back to the morality of the topic. Furthermore, there is another article that talks about why social networking is dangerous because of how the information given can be used. The article talks about how there is are, “Lack of Age-Verification mechanisms,” and, thus, they are more likely to meet more strangers on social media, thus making it more dangerous for them ( These quotes and readings in general talk about the fact that this is a known topic, and multiple companies do it, which is just one reason why this topic is very interesting to me

            Overall, there are a few arguments for each side of the issue at hand, which is whether or not the online surveillance is morally right or morally. Some of the subtopics include whether or not it’s in the company’s legal right, whether the terms and conditions should include something about this, and the different cultures and history of privacy.






Ammori, M, (2013), The “New” new york times: Free speech lawyering in the age of google and twitter. Harvard law review. Vol. 127.

Andrejevic, M. (2007), Surveillance in the digital enclosure. The Communication Review, 10:4, (295-317).

Dourish & Bell, (2011), Rethinking privacy.

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