Privacy and Personalization: Exploring the Legal Side

This post was written by a student in the Stanford’s Winter 2011 Networked Rhetoric class; it was designed to focus in on a particular source or research experience related to his/her project on social media and digital culture .  See a more detailed overview of this assignment.

As part of my research project for my Networked Rhetoric writing class, I decided to explore the effects of data collecting that companies such as Google or Facebook do, and specifically how they relate to privacy and personalization.

I’m sure many of you have noticed the personalized ads that show up on our Facebook home pages, or the customized searches that Google conducts.  We’ve all wondered, how are companies able to know what we like and what our habits are? The answer lies in data collection. The data collection that Google performs when they track the number of mouse clicks or websites visited;  the data collection that reveals our information (more than we know) to different companies. And this leads to the heart of my research: the conflict between privacy concerns and personalization. How much information are we willing to give up for more personalized products, and what are the implications?

While researching the various sides of the issue, I came across an article written by Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at UCLA. His article, published in the magazine titled “Communications of the ACM”, details the legal side of the conflict between personalization and privacy, revealing the complexity of restricting access to our information online. His focus is on the Constitution, and the extent to which the government can get involved with information privacy.

In his article, Volokh acknowledges the risk implied when we enter our information on the Internet, and the difficulties that lie in legally restricting our access to it. He recognizes that some laws do exist as  “important tools for stopping the government from compromising our information privacy”(p.85), but if third parties get hold of our information, we cannot stop them from communicating it any further.

Volokh’s argument can be found in the full version of the article, but his main point lies in the sensibility of the First Amendment, and how it is extremely difficult for the government to actively control information access without violating this right.

While the focus of my research is not necessarily the legal perspective, I think it is interesting to see that nothing can really protect us from having our information exposed to third parties. While at the beginning of my research I felt that giving up so much information was a large risk,  after reading this article the feeling is intensified. It leaves me intrigued as to why we continuously choose to expose our information, and what it is that overrides these privacy concerns. As I continue my research, I hope to explore further into this inquiry.

~Ana Cristina Gadala, Stanford University ’13

This entry was posted in CCR exchange: Student Research, Networked Rhetoric: Section 1, Stanford Networked Rhetorics class. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Privacy and Personalization: Exploring the Legal Side

  1. enmasse13 says:

    Hey Christina,

    I find this very topic very interesting and I like your approach to the issue. All of us have been targeted by specific ad campaigns, personalized on our interests and prior web history. It’s more than a little frightening how much they (Google, ad companies) know about us and how complacent and even supportive of this loss of privacy we are. It might be worthwhile to explore some of the prominent psychological & social differences users exhibit online compared to reality.

    Just a thought…if possible try to find out EXACTLY how much these ad agencies know about us and present that with your findings. Your results could be startling and really draw in an audience.

  2. Pingback: Researching Networked Culture | The Cross-Cultural Rhetoric Blog

  3. Nikhil Raghuram says:

    This topic is very interesting, especially seeing that this issue is relevant to all of our lives. I would agree that it would be interesting to know how much information these companies know; I imagine that we’re giving out a lot more information then we would imagine. But it would also be interesting to find out about how some of the recent efforts to combat data collecting might help. I’ve heard that some browsers are implementing features to give users a greater ability to control cookies and other data-collection methods. The question that comes to my mind is if efforts like these could reduce how much information we give out or at least give us more control over it. But I’m sure you have many interesting ideas you want to cover in this topic, and it is a really interesting topic.

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