Valuing and Protecting Our Internet Community

He “ruffled” me from the start.

I have been obsessively returning to this post, trying to edit the length and the “insane person on a mission against cyber crime” tone.  There have been so many revisions that I am starting to think maybe I AM a crazy person who takes the topic too personally.

Chapter 6 of Net Smart disturbed me, or rather the first page and a half did.  While I realize Rheingold’s objective was a broad discussion about internet privacy and security, and not specifically cyber crimes, the comments he did make about it were unsettling to me.  He made security invasion seem like “par for the course,” that to some extent, we should shrug off and accept it (239).

“Internet Invasion” IS a home invasion.

Internet security and data-surveillance (or “dataveillance” as Rheingold refers to) is often approached from the direction of how network users should protect themselves.  While their social media usage may provide a possible entryway for their privacy to be violated, it shouldn’t be mistaken for an open door.

There is a duality to our life.  We reside in two very real communities:  the “real world” and the virtual world.  Our cyber “dwellings” should have an assumption of safety like our physical dwellings. I would be horrified if someone entered my home uninvited and proceeded to rifle through my file cabinet, taking any document of interest.  I can’t imagine anyone suggesting that it was “to be expected.”

Guaranteed security and protection is hard to come by.

Rheingold–and many others–have no hesitation suggesting privacy violations on the internet “are to be expected.” He passively responds by telling us, “While not advocating collective surrender on the legal and judicial front, I do suggest that your best individual defense at the moment is know-how…. You will still be surveilled.  But at least you can be informed.”  I imagine if Mr. Rheingold had the same low expectations of “real world” security, when the stranger enters my house and takes the documents from my cabinet, he might say something like: “You could call the police, but let’s consider getting a locked file cabinet instead and maybe hiding the more important documents under your matress. It’s probably best to accept that things like this happen.”  I get the feeling this is when he might give me a fatherly pat on the hand.

Rheingold also mentions “privacy advocates” and how we can’t depend on them to protect us because they lack the financial and political resources to act on our behalf.  Advocates?  How about having faith in law enforcement to protect?  I realize they are busy fighting “real world” crime.  And yes, I know tax dollars are always being fought for.  But, we wouldn’t suggest the police department conserve manpower by only fighting crime in half of their local communities. We also seem happy to utilize legal and judicial means to seek fair punishment for crimes that we don’t even suffer personal harm from.  We take corporations to the “judicial mat” when we discover they have lied to stockholders about their business practices.  We force politicians, in judicial hearings,  to share humiliating details of their inappropriate personal affairs.  The guy on the other end of the computer, who is scavenging for an innocent person’s personal information, will certainly inflict personal harm to his victim.

Although I am not about to high-five the politician with a mistress, I care more about my neighbor’s identity theft causing her bank account to go into overdraft.  As an extension of either of our communities, cyber or “real world,” we need to care and be cautious that our language reflects the concerns of our neighbors.

A few years ago, I received harassing legal threats, sent from a supposed lawyer, threatening legal action.  The initial communication was sent through the mail.  He demanded I respond via email.  As the “lawyer’s” address turned out to fictitious, but they personal details of mine, I wanted to report it. I contacted the The Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Center.  They sent me to my local law enforcement.  The local police department sent me to The Federal Law Enforcement and Security Arm of the U.S Postal Servicewho also said it was not their jurisdiction.

In my situation, law enforcement was so busy identifying which “community” had responsibility that I wasn’t protected like a citizen of any of them.  When the majority–those who connect via the internet and in-person–stops diminishing their voices by endlessly discussing user responsibility and the futility of trying to protect our internet “neighborhood”–than the agencies set in place to protect us, will be compelled to evolve as well.  Then they can share responsibility for protecting citizens that are part of multiple neighborhoods.

Posted on October 26, 2015, in Social Media, Society, Technology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Chelsea Dowling

    Hi Rebecca!

    Your post this week – well let’s just say I can see both sides. A large part of me does in fact agree with Rheingold when he says that it’s just the way it is and we should expect to be surveilled. (On a side note though, the individual who had my book before me didn’t much care for the statement, “but at least you can be informed” because it was actually crossed off in my book.)

    I do agree with you though, in that we do have a definitively split world between the human world and the virtual world. And, in all honesty, the more we become impacted by technology, I fell our virtual world will become our reality. As a part of my role, working with our IT department, I am responsible for helping to communicate a number of different things. Most recently, I have been working with our security team in developing internal organizational campaigns around this very topic – with goal of raising awareness and educating. I’m not sure if you heard of Sony Pictures’ security breach in 2014, but it was a major security breach that started to get companies to think differently about security (even our’s, which is located in little old La Farge, WI). This year, we have been reaching out to employees in so many ways, educating them on spam messages and not to click links, for example. This month is also National Security Awareness Month and I have put together a number of activities for our staff to partake in.

    My point is that it is very real and it is very much of our every day lives. The more access we have to the outside world, the more access they have to us. It’s important that we do become informed and that we do expect it.

    When I lived in the Twin Cities, I never expected to be in danger. I was always very aware of my surroundings. I made sure I did not put myself in any uncompromising situations. But the real matter was, with so many more people there was a lot more crime (than what I had to worry about living in the country). But it was important that I was at least aware and knew what a danger situation might be and how to handle myself in the event something did happen. We definitely think that we should have the right to our own privacy and security – but the truth is, we are just as vulnerable online as we are in our human world. More people just have access to us online than face-to-face.

  2. Hi, Chelsea: I’m not sure which version of this you read. I have been endlessly “fiddling” with this blog post. (Imagine that, right?) The last version had a very abbreviated version of some fraud that was directed at me. It had an internet component, a traditional mail component and then my actual home. For me, there was ONE component: Myself! In the end, I had no resolution because nobody thought it was in their “area” of criminal investigation.

    You wrote: “My point is that it is very real and it is very much of our every day lives. The more access we have to the outside world, the more access they have to us. It’s important that we do become informed and that we do expect it.” I completely agree! The expectation is certainly there that people will be dishonest and commit fraud. I think too many people use language that minimizes the dishonest activities perpetrate via the internet. In turn, which I believe the last edit explains, I think our enforcement agencies follow suit. They depersonalize and downgrade many criminal activities that aren’t occurring on a physical level. As you said though, it is “real” and part of “our every day life.”

    Prior to my last edits, I did mention that I completely agree we should take security measures and I am thankful to anyone who teaches me additional tools to protect myself in the virtual world. While I will take all the measures I can, I see myself more as a “homeowner” in my internet world. I should protect my assets and make it as safe as possible. I just get a little “irked” when I hear people move away from the “education” aspect of securing our online environments and sort of shifting the responsibility and discussion away from all the reasons it’s wrong and ways to fix the people who are making that environment one we have to work so hard to protect. Does that make sense? I guess the internet is like the “old west.” Once upon a time, you’d carry a gun everywhere to “protect” yourself from bandits. Makes sense. I would too. But eventually, you want the world to evolve so there is a better more efficient way to deal with it.

    You mentioned how proactively your work responds. That is a great point! Our companies, who often are ultimately protecting the bottom line or their secure information, are wonderful examples of how government and law enforcement should be proactive. I hadn’t really considered that. My home office environment, which utilizes (among other measures) a secure virtual desktop, is one place that I have more security support than I want! I also have multiple way to reach one who will take immediate action if I have a hint of security concerns. Hmmm… maybe one of our companies could run a seminar for law enforcement and teach them how it is done! 😉

    • Chelsea Dowling

      I read the version that was showing about 20 minutes ago if that helps? 😛 One of the things I was thinking about when I read your response was a Lifetime movie (you just gotta love those). Anyways. I remember watching this one movie that was about cyber bullying. The young girl in the movie I believe ends up committing suicide over the bullying, but nothing was done because there were in fact no laws against it. Your post reminds me of this, in that there are some areas where we seem to be so proactive and others where we are not. I think though that some people just don’t know what to do with online security. There are obvious traits, but because we are connected to eachother in so many ways now, how can one actually put laws/governance around those actions?

      • OK I read a different version of this post [that I printed out Monday afternoon] and had noticed an all together different version late Sunday night. I get why you keep coming back to it but keep your readers in mind! Also, please offer page references for the Rheingold quotes whenever possible.

        My response is similar to Chelsea’s statement that “The more access we have to the outside world, the more access they have to us. It’s important that we do become informed and that we do expect it.” Isn’t this related to crap detection? Everything published online is up for grabs is another way of thinking about it, as creepy as that sounds. However, that motto is also one that gets some people the attention that they want, so it’s all relative.

        As for the legal side of things, I recommend checking out the Internet Safety Technical Taskforce report: https://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/isttf. I realize that it’s from 2008 but the Berkman Center was the first of its kind to focus on these types of cyberlaw issues, so I trust it as a foundational document.

        A new focus of their research is student privacy https://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/studentprivacy which all of you in an online program may find interesting. Stout has this policy http://www.uwstout.edu/admin/provost/socmedguide.cfm and I would hope the Blogging 101 document that was provided offered everyone the information they needed before heading into this space. I’m happy to take feedback on that via email.

        • Thank you for the links. The Internet Technical Taskforce site had a lot of other interesting reading, beyond the report.

          And I do expect that privacy violations will occur, I just wish that people didn’t use such passive language when discussing it. I know I have to protect myself when I’m “out there,” but I feel like our concerns and right to privacy is somewhat devalued when there are so many saying “that’s just the way it is.”

  3. Hi Rebecca,

    I had the same immediate reaction to Rheingold’s analysis and descriptions of lack of internet privacy; I found it scary. So, I shut down a Twitter account I’d opened for my case study, and I immediately changed all my Facebook privacy settings.

    Rheingold’s assertion that invasion of privacy is to be expected initially “scared” me, but then I thought of it in terms of almost everything else. Retail stores expect a certain amount of theft of merchandise, and now it’s becoming more prevalent that hackers are stealing customer credit and personal data. And in a higher education perspective colleges and universities, in their attempts to personalize a student’s experience, gather and share personal data in an attempt to improve student success.

    And in a broad sense, every company seems to know our credit score and makes lending decisions based on it. So, to me it does seem reasonable to expect that my privacy will be invaded, especially since I have to “share” so much data for everyday transactions.

    • Hi, Dana! I completely agree with you. I expect it. I expect real-life crime too. I just think people should express an interest in having people actively pursue it. I know there are agencies that claim they pursue this stuff but, at least in my experience, it was impossible to get anyone to acknowledge my complaint. I happen to think the complaint I brought to them (the three separate agencies) was sufficient harassment to warrant someone looking into it. And, although you rethought it, I am very impressed with how proactive you were in protecting your online identity! You don’t mess around! 🙂

  4. natashajmceachin

    Hi Rebecca,

    Cyber crime freaks me out just as much, especially with the way technology is being customized to our individual lives. For the longest, my grandmother has yelled at me for entrusting so much of my sensitive information to my iPhone. She always tells me, “You never know who can hack into it”.

    I always thought Apple was very secure, and my cell phone company was even more secure so there was nothing for me to worry about. I updated my iOS 9.1, and was startled to notice my phone began alerting me on the traffic conditions to my house the second I sat inside my car outside of my job. I never requested these alerts, I never identified my job as “my job” in my phone, nor do I remember entering my address.

    This isn’t a big deal, but it led me to wonder what other information about me is in my phone that I don’t realize. I know it has my fingerprint, my social security number, DOB, debit card information, and (recently) address/ work address is stored. However, I’m starting to wonder just how secure Apple is.

    • Natasha:

      It is scary business when your phone starts striking up conversations with you based on what it knows about you. It’s always a tough decision what information you provide for applications and the like. Beyond cyber crime, there is a risk of general annoyance and intrusion by a company you trust. On one hand, we do want to trust companies, such as Apple. On the other, I think their developers are often misguided in the attempts to please or impress us. As with the traffic reports you were getting… you don’t sound impressed. Protecting our information is such complicated business, huh? 🙂

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