With all of the perks and benefits that come with the net – the easy networking ability, the access to real-time information from all of the world, the social networking phenomenon, the way we can approach an entire day without leaving our desks – with many of these wonderfully convenient and appealing facets of the online world, there exists still that one dark cloud that seems forever to be hanging over the heads of web-users. The issue of online privacy – or more specifically, the lack thereof, appears to constantly be showing up in the evening news, in the office, and in millions of blogs around the world. So is it something we should all be concerned about, or possibly is it another needless concern?

Can we care? Many think that the younger generation, or even the digital natives, hold a blas attitude to email privacy, certainly not worrying about who or exactly what can access their property town, phone numbers, or general demographical information. Yet interestingly, a recent survey found that it must be actually the 18-35 year olds that are more likely to be tread the internet privacy waters more carefully than their older peers. It appears that even though younger demographic may be more easygoing about posting private details across their social media pages, they are also very likely to utilize the privacy settings in position to specifically dictate just who can access those private details. Based on a PEW study, for instance, only 6% of teens allow both their first and last names to be noticed by the public on social media sites. Perhaps it is because most are only using social media to help keep in touch with already existing friends – and privacy settings are adapted so that no others outside their ‘friend’ lists can access their information.

Unfortunately for Facebook, lately this has been making news headlines for all of the wrong reasons. Viruses are making the rounds of Facebook pages, posing as ‘hilarious’ video links that look to be posted on your wall from your friends, only to infect your personal computer and steal your sign in details in case you click on them. Facebook recently introduced new privacy settings to enable users to better control their online privacy, only to get a backlash of complaints that this new settings were too complicated, with users confused and concerned over just how their private information was being used. There was even a ‘Quit Facebook Day’ founded mid 2010 so as to boycott the social network site due to the online privacy issue, but which had been met with a lukewarm response from the site’s users. In May 2010, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, released a statement declaring that new and improved privacy settings were on their own way. With ‘privacy controls that are more simple to use’ and ‘an great way to switch off all third-party services’, Facebook are trying to soothe their disgruntled users and place a stop for the privacy breach rumours. A big concern that continues to be is the fact that although the privacy settings are easier to use, they are certainly not set as default – put simply, before you actively seek out the privacy settings and alter them yourself, your profile, information and photographs are available to people. Because of this if we want be private, we must figure out how to practice it.

Holding us back – Social network sites also have come under fire of late due to a variety of terrible abductions as well as other crimes which have resulted from users falling for disguises online. Chat rooms have long been a worry for parents, giving anyone from around the globe an outlet for direct communication with under-age Web users. Another major gnbptu concern often comes from online purchasing. As e-commerce will continue to boom, unfortunately, so too carry out the cases of identity theft, monetary theft and fraud. In fact, many think that the single thing holding back the e-commerce sector is the lack of consumer privacy protection online.

Education is the key – So does this suggest that we should de-activate our social network pages and refuse to purchase online? Interestingly, authorities often reply to public concerns within the dangers of the online world by advising users to merely hide any information and any personal information, or simply not use certain websites. However perhaps it is actually more realistic and sensible to advise Internet users to teach themselves on the privacy settings in the websites they frequent and use, and to be personally responsible and accountable because they get involved in sharing online. Mark Zuckerberg believes that ‘people wish to stay connected and share with those around them’. Users can perform this without privacy fears when they carry it upon themselves to be informed as well as use the web responsibly. The online world has opened phenomenal opportunities in the form of communication and global sharing, and although as with the majority of things, this comes with its threats, we can use social network sites and e-commerce without fear when we are responsible, clued-up and Internet savvy.