Editorial: Avoiding privacy risk

(BigOakFlickr/Flickr Creative Commons)

A recent UConn study conducted by Professor and Operations and Information Management Department Head Ram Gopal explores the causes and factors that induce privacy risk online. A popular concern raised by the study is stopping privacy breaches.

To answer this, one must consider the agents who consume personal information online. Third parties, “advertisers, website analytics engines or social media widgets...that can observe your browsing behavior,” are central agents in modern internet privacy breach. The server used to access a certain website communicates to third parties and allows them to access a user’s recent searches, online purchases and online information. This access is effectuated by online messages between servers called cookies. Third parties use this information to direct ads to specific users and thus increase the likelihood that he or she will click the ad and buy the product. Essentially, unknown parties are accessing personal information without the knowledge or direct consent of internet users.

In the study, researchers note that “simply landing on a website can cause substantial and instantaneous sharing with third parties." This is, by definition, an invasion of privacy. Since the exchange of information online is not regulated, it is up to internet users to take precautions that hinder other parties’ breaches of privacy.

Contrary to popular belief, “higher industry security requirements result in higher barriers to entry, which also increase the industry concentration of third parties," so institutional involvment in privacy risk would actually increase information breaches even more. The UConn study suggests that “higher visitor privacy concerns will result in the website using fewer third parties." Raising awareness online to hinder the absorption of personal information by third parties is the responsibility of internet users and can be easily done given the instant methods of communication the internet provides.

This research is not only helpful to the UConn community, but is crucial for all internet-users to be aware of. By completing this research, UConn professors are allowing for more educated use of the internet and is making the online community safer for everyone.