February 18, 2010

Trust

Privacy on the internet has become an increasingly hard to control problem. We consistently hear about Facebook, Google Buzz, Twitter, and other social networking sites and the problems they have regarding privacy matters. I believe, however, that privacy on a computer is fictional. If you don't want people seeing certain information, then it shouldn't be put online. In today's society nearly every computer is connected to every other computer in the world. The only thing separating your work and information from someone else out there is a flimsy password. In fact, with cloud computing becoming more and more popular, your information can be stolen straight out from underneath you even if you haven't been online for weeks.

Recently Google was hacked by what they assume to be government hackers from China. They are probably right, but I bet that the United States has just as many hackers on it's own payroll trying to obtain secrets from China. Hacking is the cheapest and fastest way of espionage that we have in the current world. Since all of our information is connected somehow, it is just a matter of time before people find different ways to access it. The internet can seem like a scary place in our day. Is everyone out to get us? Nope.

While we need to understand that anything we put online is easy fodder for hackers and people who want to steal our identities, there is also a whole army working to protect us. Most these people don't even get paid to fix our problems. Jonathan Zittrain gave a speech on TED.com about how the internet restored his faith in humanity. Despite the trust issues, the web is home to the world's greatest acts of kindness. When a virus infects systems, hundreds of people band together to fix it and kill it as soon as possible. Wikipedia is another example of people doing good on the web, just for the sake of doing good. Google's motto is "Don't be Evil!" for crying out loud (although people will argue whether Google is actually evil or not).

We need to think of the internet as an online version of those big bulletin boards you see at Universities. Anything you put on it can be taken down and used for who knows what reason. If you put up a message with your phone number and address then say you need to carpool to California next week, some bad guy can use that information to break into your house and steal your stuff. Most people understand this, so they only put up a phone number or an e-mail address. When people use the board smartly, good things happen. Good people help out other good people, just because they can.