The collection of personal information by electronic technology (e-technology) and the possibility of misuse of that information are primary reasons why people limit their use of the Internet and are even limiting the success of e-commerce (Szewczak, 2004). Various uses of e-technology that collect and/or disseminate personal information include corporate and government databases, e-mail, wireless communications, clickstream tracking, and PC software. The main challenge to personal information privacy is the surreptitious monitoring of user behavior on the Internet without the user’s consent and the possible misuse of the collected information resulting in financial and personal harm to the user. Our focus is primarily on Internet use in the United States of America, though clearly e-technology is global in nature and poses challenges and issues for societies around the world.
Concerns about the collection of personal information are ongoing. The results of a 1998 survey conducted by Louis Harris & Associates, Inc. revealed that worries about protecting personal information ranked as the top reason people generally are avoiding the Web (Hammonds, 1998). The misuse of credit card data for activities such as identity theft is a major concern (Stop thieves from stealing you, 2003; www.epic.org/privacy/medical/polls.html).
Dhillon and Moores (2001) reported that the selling of personal information by companies to third parties was the top privacy issue as identified by IS executives. However, failed Internet companies such as Boo.com, Toysmart.com, and CraftShop.com have either sold or have tried to sell customer data that may include phone numbers, credit card numbers, home address, and statistics on shopping habits, even though they had previously met Internet privacy monitor Truste’s criteria for safeguarding customer information privacy. The rationale for the selling was to appease creditors (Sandoval, 2000). Even financially healthy companies realize there are advantages to be gained in the selling of collected customer information. Buyers include other businesses as well as the U.S. government. The Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security spend millions of dollars annually to buy commercial databases that track American citizens’ finances, phone numbers, and biographical data. Often these data are accepted at face value without further evaluation for accuracy (Woellent & Kopecki, 2006). Companies such as Amazon, Ebay, and Google have opened up access to their databases to other companies for free in hopes these companies will develop new products and services that are organized around their database systems (Schonfeld, 2005).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) System: Microchips (tags) are used to wirelessly transmit/receive data to/from a reader device.
Pharming: Users are redirected to an imposter Web page, even though the user enters the correct URL into a browser (see Phishing ).
Clickstream Tracking: The use of software to monitor when people use the Internet and what sites they visit.
Spyware: Software that installs itself on computers when programs are downloaded and that tracks each user click, usually without the user’s knowledge or permission.
Personal Information: Information about, or peculiar to, a certain person or individual.
Identity theft: The stealing and use of a person’s identity through the acquisition of personal information without that person’s knowledge or permission.
Cookies: Text files created by a Web server and stored on a user’s hard disk that contain data about which Web sites have been visited.
Privacy: The claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others ( Westin, 1967 ).
Phishing: A user’s e-mail program is used to direct the user to a legitimate-looking Web site where the user is asked to provide personal information about himself or herself such as passwords and account numbers.
Global Positioning System (GPS): A satellite-based data system that works with a computer chip embedded in a cell phone to identify the location of the user anywhere in the world.