Safer Internet Day 2013 – Do we have a right to control our privacy online?

Last updated: Tuesday February 05th 2013
Reading time: 8 minutes

Safer Internet Day 2013 – Do we have a right to control our privacy online?

Today is Safer Internet Day (SID), and for anyone who hasn’t heard of it before, the event promotes using the web in a more conscientious way.

This year’s SID will be the tenth instalment in the history of the event, with the day now being recognised in more than 90 countries worldwide, and being supported by schools and educational establishments, large organisations, sectors of the government, members of the public and anyone else who wants to be involved. Every year has featured a new theme centred around protecting yourself online, and this time SID aims to raise awareness of online rights and responsibilities with the campaign slogan, “Connect With Respect”.

‘Connect with Respect’ Video

The key messages of the event are aimed primarily at schools in an attempt to educate kids on how to prevent themselves from becoming victims online, challenging knowledge on laws relating to online activity and how online actions can have serious repercussions offline.

Looking through the activity packs that SID have put together for schools, they are aiming to get kids talking about the issues by asking a couple of key questions, both of which provoke thought and discussion:

  • Do we have a right to access all information?
  • Do we have a right to control our privacy?

The first of these questions, for me personally, raises the issue of the internet as a whole. The invention of the web has allowed anyone access to the greatest works of art ever produced or the most amazing stories of human endeavour ever told. The internet also gave birth to citizen journalism, a force which has struck blows for many injustices all over the planet and helped publicise important events that may have gone unnoticed without the use of media streaming and sharing.

However, the availability of seemingly endless amounts of information, some would argue, is like opening a Pandora’s Box where there are no limits on the amount and types of content published online. Whereas much of the information available online is completely harmless and for the most part useful, some of the information out there can potentially breach people’s privacy, making certain facts that they might not want to come to light, laid bare for anyone to see.

The media, until recently, have always been trusted to report as much as they thought appropriate. The laws of libel (supposedly) prevented them from publishing lies and rumours. However, how do these laws relate to members of the general public that feel like spreading some juicy gossip on Facebook? There is no way that teenagers tapping out status updates from their bedrooms after a bad day at school consider their legal position before hitting “post”. Safer Internet Day hopes to teach kids that what they say on social media or through blogs can have not only moral repercussions, but legal ones as well.

Naturally, this issue links closely with how we protect our privacy, particularly through social media. I’m amazed and shocked at some of the revelations that appear in my news feed, and it always makes me question the motives behind these confessions.

The question above asks whether we have a right to control our privacy. To this I say no, we have a responsibility to do so. We’ve all had hard days and feel the need to vent, and with Facebook literally at your fingertips, the temptation is often too great. But, ultimately, the individual is responsible for that post, and Facebook, Twitter and other social media is not bothered in the slightest whether that small piece of rhetoric will land you in hot water.

The fact is, users of social media choose how much information they want to be available to everybody else. If you want everyone to know you have a cat, you can post pictures and status updates to your heart’s content. If you don’t want anyone to know, the absence of this information will prevent your friends and followers from knowing.

Privacy settings on profiles are there for a reason, you can control exactly who can see your profile and the personal details you are comfortable with being on there. This alone gives you the responsibility, enabling you to make a choice over what you want people to know.

The answer to both of these questions, for me, is the same: No, we do not have rights to access all information and no, we do not have the right to control our privacy. We have a responsibility to protect ourselves and make careful considerations about what we post and what we make available for others to see.

Whilst much of Safer Internet Day is geared towards the younger generation, the messages that the event is sending out are relevant to all of us who use the internet, especially if we make the choice to post private information about ourselves or others.

What are your thoughts on the key questions raised by Safer Internet Day? Where do you think the responsibilities lie when it comes to accessing information and privacy? Let us know in the comments below.

About the author
Laurence

I am a 26 year old WordPress Web Designer and SEO Consultant based in Banbury, Oxfordshire, UK. I have designed and maintained sites with over 20,000 pages on large corporate websites, smaller small business sites, and tiny personal websies and blogs. I provide freelance WordPress web design services in my evenings and weekends and also work full time at Toast Design in Banbury. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and on Google+.