No Such Thing As Online Privacy

The explosive popularity of social networking websites in the past few years has presented us with some engaging issues, especially those concerning privacy and what should or should not be posted on the Internet. Thanks to the Internet and social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook, people are capable of typing something into their computer and making it available to everyone else across the globe.

This is an incredible advantage for people who actually have something useful to say or who are trying to effect some change in the world, but this also presents a massive pitfall for those who lack internal censoring and often say or write things that are better off staying pent up inside their heads.

The existence of websites like these has effectively blurred the line between the public (what is common knowledge, free to be known and monitored by all) and the private (what is by right yours and of concern to yourself only, unless you choose to make it known to others).

One of the most pressing issues that has arisen alongside the explosive growth in popularity of social networking sites is the issue of who has a right to know about what we post online, and what exactly they have a right to know.

For many of these sites, the user has the ability to customize his or her profile in order to regulate who is able to see what, usually ranging between the two extremes of making everything about your profile available to everyone and limiting that same information to only the closest of your friends.

Much of the problems that surround these online profiles have to do with whether or not it is constitutional to force owners of an online profile to surrender their information to another, whether this other be another person, a corporate entity, or a university.

This discussion will center on the issue of whether or not it is constitutional for universities to monitor the online profiles of the school’s athletes.

Upon first considering this issue, my first inclination is to take the side of privacy: declaring the monitoring of student athletes’ profiles by their university as an infringement on their right to privacy.

In our current political climate, it feels as if government is only getting bigger and more invasive, invoking images of “Big Brother”-esque government control on the horizon. The government would only be too happy to have complete access to everything I say and do online (who’s to say they don’t already?), but I feel it’s important for me to maintain at least the illusion of privacy, the ability to tell others what I’m thinking without the censorship of a government or a university peering over my shoulder.

But upon further consideration, I find myself siding with the university here. Student athletes, to some extent, represent their home university. They are employed by their university, usually playing for their school in exchange for tuition, free tutoring or other such benefits, and if the university wants to monitor what the student athletes in their employment broadcast on the Internet for everyone else to see, then they have a right to do so.

We have a constitutional freedom of speech, but this does not mean that we necessarily have a right to broadcast, type or update a status with anything we want.  Social networking sites (as well as access to the Internet itself) are a privilege, and if one must sacrifice some of one’s privacy in order to use these resources, then I believe that to be a fair exchange.

I realize that I am not a student athlete and therefore am not subject to the scrutiny about which I am writing, but even if I was, I would feel the same way I do now. I have a Facebook profile, and I have nothing to hide. I don’t take the so-called “privacy” of my online information for granted. For all I know, every employer I submit a job application to (as well as my government, my school and so on) can already view my online profile in its entirety, and I don’t have a problem with this.

I operate under the assumption that — no matter what my “privacy settings” are — everything I write, say, click on, or like on the internet is available to scrutiny by anyone and everyone, and I’m okay with that. If you don’t agree, or you don’t like the idea of your Facebook profile being monitored by your school or government or any other entity in a position of authority over you, then I suggest that you don’t even create an online profile in the first place.

 

Spencer Grimes is a fourth-year English major. He can be reached at sgrimes@uci.edu.