Is Online Anonymity Disappearing?

As our world becomes more technology-dependent and interconnected, surfing the Internet as a private individual has become more and more difficult. Take a minute to think about it.

For many people, the first website they visit online is Facebook. Once a Facebook member has signed in, he or she stays logged in, even after navigating away from the page. In some instances, this is convenient; many news sites now require a commenter to connect to their Facebook account before adding their opinion on the article. This adds credibility to each person's comments and prevents individuals from hiding behind anonymous accounts when making cruel or extreme statements. But who wants a Facebook wall full of third-party notices about which stories a user commented on, liked, or shared with others? Issues could arise if someone were to comment on news articles at work or home that presented a conflict of interest with their career or discussed controversial topics. Since the two would now be linked, Facebook is helping to push a user's information to an increasing number of people.

The same goes for Google. Once logged in, the user stays connected to the email/search engine giant unless he or she explicitly chooses to sign out before going to another site. When switching between Google's multitude of sites (Docs, Blogger, Google+, etc.) it's nice not to have to log in ten different times over the course of a day. But as we mentioned in a previous post, if a user is constantly searching Google while logged in, the search engine will start to learn users' preferences, which will affect what appears on search results. Being a 'neutral' Internet user while logged in to Google and Facebook, as well as other social media sites, is virtually impossible.

Because social networks have become so used to people being connected all the time, some have overstepped their boundaries. It seems that their thought process follows the line of 'If they're used to seeing their friends faces beside an article the recommended on a news site, they won't mind seeing their friends (or their own) faces in advertising ' In 2009, Facebook began using members' profile pictures in ads for products or services with which they had interacted or chosen to 'like.' It was soon revealed, after Facebook received a scathing amount of backlash from users, that members could easily opt out of the service by visiting their settings page. But should this have been an opt-in function?

Clearly, LinkedIn didn't learn from Facebook's mistake. Last month, a whole two years after Facebook received its public lashing, it was discovered that the professional-minded social network had elected to use member's profile pictures and content in advertisements around the web. Again, users were opted-in to the program without their acknowledgement. The opt-out process is easy: visit Settings, click the Account tab, selected Manage Social Advertising (on the right), uncheck the box, and save. When will these companies learn that customers shouldn't be required to opt-out of campaigns that use personal information? In an age where connectedness and networking online will only continue to increase, is it wrong to assume we'll never be able to anonymously browse the Internet again? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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