With the perks and benefits which come with the Internet – the simple networking ability, the access to real-time information from all of the world, the social networking phenomenon, the way we can plan an entire day without leaving our desks – with many of these wonderfully convenient and appealing facets of the web 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 maybe more specifically, the lack thereof, generally seems to constantly be popping up at night news, in the office, and in countless blogs the world over. So is it something we should all be concerned about, or is it another needless concern?

Do we care? Many believe that younger generation, or the digital natives, hold a blas attitude to email privacy settings, not necessarily worrying about who or so what can access their home town, telephone numbers, or general demographical information. Yet interestingly, a newly released survey found that it must be in reality the 18-35 year olds that are more inclined to be tread the web privacy waters more carefully than their older peers. It seems that even though the younger demographic could be more easygoing about posting private details across their social network pages, they are also very likely to make use of the privacy settings set up to specifically dictate just that 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 seen by most people on social networks. Perhaps it is because the majority are only using social network to maintain in contact 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 it really has been making news headlines for all the wrong reasons. Viruses are generating the rounds of Facebook pages, posing as ‘hilarious’ video links that look to be posted on your wall by your friends, just to infect your personal computer and steal your log on details in case you click on them. Facebook recently introduced new privacy settings to enable users to improve control their online privacy, only to possess a backlash of complaints that the new settings were too complicated, with users confused and concerned over exactly how their personal information was being used. There was also a ‘Quit Facebook Day’ founded mid 2010 so as to boycott the social media site due to the online privacy issue, but that was met using a lukewarm response from your site’s users. In May 2010, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, released an announcement declaring that new and improved privacy settings were on the way. With ‘privacy controls which can be much easier to use’ and ‘an easy way to shut off all third-party services’, Facebook are trying to soothe their disgruntled users and place an end for the privacy breach rumours. A huge concern that continues to be is the fact although the privacy settings are simpler to use, they are certainly not set as default – quite simply, until you actively search for the privacy settings and alter them yourself, your profile, information and photographs are offered to the public. Because of this whenever we want be private, we must figure out how to do it.

Holding us back – Social network sites have likewise come under fire of late because of a variety of terrible abductions and other crimes who have resulted from users falling for disguises online. Chat rooms have for ages been a worry for parents, giving anyone from all over the world an outlet for direct communication with under-age Online users. One other major gnbptu concern often is caused by online purchasing. As e-commerce continues to boom, unfortunately, so too perform the cases of identity fraud, monetary theft and fraud. In fact, many feel that the one thing holding back the e-commerce sector is the lack of consumer privacy protection online.

Education is the key – So does all of this mean that we must de-activate our social networking pages and refuse to purchase online? Interestingly, authorities often react to public concerns within the hazards of the web world by advising users to easily hide any information and any personal information, or just not use certain websites. However perhaps it is more realistic and sensible to advise Online users to educate themselves on the privacy settings of the websites they frequent and use, and also to be personally responsible and accountable since they get involved in sharing online. Mark Zuckerberg believes that ‘people desire to stay connected and show to those around them’. Users are capable of doing this without privacy fears if they carry it upon themselves to get informed and also to use the Internet responsibly. The internet world has exposed phenomenal opportunities in the form of communication and global sharing, and although as with the majority of things, this includes its threats, we could use social network sites and e-commerce without fear when we are responsible, clued-up and Internet savvy.