Our internet-dependant idiosyncrasy always places us in a very awkward dilemma. While we often hesitate over the question of whether trust or not to trust certain websites, the temptation they offer are so great that we sometimes have to give up our vigilance.

Just recently, ABC’s Media Report (2008) has raised concerns about the credibility of certain websites, which give us access to information we need, but in the process, collect our data for usages not readily known to us.

Google Search Ads

Google Search Ads (Bgtheory 2008)
Google Search Ads (Bgtheory 2008)

We need not venture far to see how the data is being used against us; all you need is doing a quick search with the famous Google search engine, and you will see a list of relevant advertisements that appear just beside the results of your search. Now, do you feel that your privacy rights have been threatened? According to Latanya Sweetney (2002), “privacy reflects the ability of a person, organisation, government, or entity to control its own space, where the concept of space takes on different contexts,” including cyberspace.

Do you not feel betrayed that your move in the cyberspace is being monitored and constantly reacted to? Perhaps not; because we have known this to be a trade-off of our ‘free’ meal, and this is but one means for Google to sustain its operation, so that it can continue its great service for us (Sullivan 2006). But of course, besides our self-content, there is also an underlying trust in big conglomerates like Google that they understand the tacit rules of this fair trade.


Profile of a Facebook member (Seomoz.org 2008)

Profile of a Facebook member (Seomoz.org 2008)

Yet, that is not always the case. Facebook, a widely-used, well-known, and supposedly trustable, advertising-supported site, has been surrounded by controversies over invasion of privacy over the years. It provides social-networking service which allows it users to share their (often personal) information with others users, but on the condition that it can store and archive the information its users submitted online, even after they have been removed by the owners (Facebook’s Privacy Policy 2008). This poses another problem to users who regret having published certain information and want them to be effaced permanently.

However, the users, who are too tempted to share in the community, often reveal too much information in and update too frequently their profiles (Jones & Soltren 2005). To escalate the problem, most users are also oblivious to the privacy policy set up by Facebook which states clearly that it has the right to disclose user’s information to third parties (Jones & Soltren 2005). These then constitute a silent, rich mine for advertisers, and through the help of Facebook, they can direct relevant advertisements to the users by their demographics.

Being a profit-driven company, Facebook was not at all content with its achievement, and had resolved to broaden the scope of information it could gather from its users. Last year, it introduced another advertising feature, “Beacon”, which told users what their friends were buying online (Rose 2007). Though, Facebook publicly said it would not collect this type of information without permit, it had been proven guilty but still this feature remains (Perez 2007).

Until a time when there is truly such thing as ethical labelling for website, I dread, we still have to wallow in the same dilemma.


Facebook’s Privacy Policy 2008. Viewed 12 November, 2008, from


ABC’s Media Report, ‘Ethical labelling and the web’, 6 November. Retrieved 12 November, 2008, from


Jones, H & Soltren, JH 2005, ‘Facebook: threats to privacy’. Viewed 12 November, 2008, from

Perez, JC 2007, ‘Facebook’s beacon more instrusive than previously thought’, PCWorld, 1 December. Retrieved, 12 November, from


Sullivan, R 2006, ‘How google makes money?’, Enquiro, 24 Febuary. Retrieved, 12 November, 2008, from


Rose, I 2007, ‘Facehooked’, BBC, 20 December. Retrieved, 12 November, from