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With all of the perks and benefits which come with the Internet – the straightforward networking ability, the access to real-time information from all of the world, the social networking phenomenon, the way we can approach an entire day without leaving our desks – with many of these wonderfully convenient and appealing facets of the web world, there exists still that one dark cloud that seems forever to be hanging over the heads of web-users. The issue of online privacy – or even more specifically, the lack thereof, seems to constantly be popping up later in the day news, at your workplace, and in an incredible number of blogs the world over. So is it something we should all be concerned about, or is it another needless concern?

Should we care? Many feel that younger generation, or the digital natives, hold a blas attitude to email privacy and security, certainly not worrying about who or exactly what can access their home town, telephone numbers, or general demographical information. Yet interestingly, a recently available survey found that it is actually the 18-35 year olds that are more likely to be tread the web privacy waters more carefully than their older peers. It would appear that although the younger demographic may be more easygoing about posting private details across their social network pages, also, they are more prone to utilize the privacy settings in place to specifically dictate just who are able to access those private details. According to a PEW study, for example, only 6% of teens allow both their first and last names to be seen by the general public on social media sites. Perhaps it is because most are only using social media to help keep in contact with already existing friends – and privacy settings are adapted to ensure that no others outside their ‘friend’ lists can access their information.

Unfortunately for Facebook, lately it really has been making news headlines for all of the wrong reasons. Viruses are making the rounds of Facebook pages, posing as ‘hilarious’ video links that appear to be to get posted on your own wall from your friends, only to infect your computer and steal your log on details in case you click on them. Facebook recently introduced new privacy settings to permit users to better control their online privacy, only to possess a backlash of complaints the new settings were too complicated, with users confused and concerned over exactly how their personal data was being utilized. There was also a ‘Quit Facebook Day’ founded mid 2010 so as to boycott the social media site because of the online privacy issue, but which had been met with a lukewarm response from your site’s users. In May 2010, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, released an announcement declaring that new and improved privacy settings were on their own way. With ‘privacy controls which can be much easier to use’ and ‘an easy way to switch off all third-party services’, Facebook are attempting to soothe their disgruntled users and set a stop towards the privacy breach rumours. A huge concern that stays is the fact even though the privacy settings are easier to use, they are certainly not set as default – in other words, until you actively search for the privacy settings and alter them yourself, your profile, information and photographs are for sale to the general public. Which means that whenever we want be private, we have to discover ways to get it done.

Holding us back – Social networks also have come under fire lately because of a number of terrible abductions as well as other crimes that have resulted from users falling for disguises online. Chat rooms have long been a worry for moms and dads, giving anyone from around the globe an outlet for direct communication with under-age Internet users. Another major gnbptu concern often stems from online purchasing. As e-commerce will continue to boom, unfortunately, so too carry out the cases of identity fraud, monetary theft and fraud. Actually, many believe that the single thing holding back the e-commerce industry is the lack of consumer privacy protection online.

Education is vital – So does all this suggest that we need to de-activate our social networking pages and refuse to purchase online? Interestingly, authorities often react to public concerns within the dangers of the online world by advising users to merely hide any information and then any personal details, or just not use certain websites. However perhaps it is more realistic and sensible to advise Online users to teach themselves on the privacy settings from the websites they frequent and make use of, as well as be personally responsible and accountable since they take part in sharing online. Mark Zuckerberg believes that ‘people wish to keep in touch and share with those around them’. Users are capable of doing this without privacy fears should they bring it upon themselves to be informed as well as search on the internet responsibly. The online world has exposed phenomenal opportunities in the form of communication and global sharing, and although similar to the majority of things, this includes its threats, we can use social networks and e-commerce without fear when we are responsible, clued-up and Internet savvy.