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Tanya Kalyan (Global) - Privacy and Piracy: Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I often worry that Google knows more about me than my own mother, but I have rarely been concerned about how the company would use the information. I used to click onto the site freely, both at home and at work. It was my swinging door to the internet. However, since the company made controversial changes to its privacy laws on the 1st March, I have become far more trepidatious about using the search engine. It’s like something out of a George Orwell novel; Google is watching you, and now it has the power to use and share your private data on multiple platforms, including YouTube, Gmail and Blogger.

I was outraged when Google went public with these changes. However, my reaction also made me feel somewhat like a hypocrite, as only two months before I was backing the online protests against SOPA and PIPA 100%. The two controversial acts were designed to block access to sites containing unauthorised copyright material, giving content owners the power to request court orders to shut down sites associated with piracy. Terms highlighted in SOPA and PIPA also meant advertisers and ISPs would be forbidden from doing business with infringers based overseas. However, both bills were highly ambiguous and failed to create specific definitions, meaning many of the regulations would be ripe for abuse.

Both SOPA and PIPA were hit by heavy opposition online. And of course, my opinions on the merits of these bills were ignited and fuelled by the opinions of several influential players in the internet sphere. On the 18th January 2012, Wikipedia blacked out its English language sites for 24 hours worldwide, in protest against the two proposed legislations. According to the BBC, the act prompted eight million people to contact their politicians, and led to eight US lawmakers withdrawing their support for the bills. The high profile online community was joined by users of the site Reddit, which staged a similar protest for 12 hours on the same day.

The double blackout elevated national discourse on SOPA enormously, evoking strong reactions from some of the most well-known people on the internet, including Mark Zuckerberg (the creator of Facebook).

In a similar vein, Google’s new privacy laws have sparked scandal both online and in the news. It would seem that we are all against rules that encourage the censorship of information, as long as we are not implicated as individuals. But, what is more important - the principle of freedom of information that governs the web’s philosophy or, one’s personal right to privacy?

There are some benefits to be found inside Google’s new laws. If the search engine does supply your information to advertisers, you would be served personalised content that suits your tastes with minimal effort. Also, information provided by Google would be a great enabler for entrepreneurship. On the other hand, the new laws remove any anonymity associated with the internet, gone are the days when you can use the site to find out information about sensitive matters such as health, and trust that it remains private. Instead you’ll be seeing adverts for Haemorrhoid treatment pop up on your browser.

By Tanya Kalyan, e-Content Writer, IDG Connect

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