Morality of Information Gathering and Censorship

            Both Morozov’s The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom and Eli Praiser’s The Filter Bubble discuss aspects of internet usage, censorship, and data collection. Morozov addresses the issue of censorship, and whether or not there is a need for censorship, through usage of the example of Russia. In Russia, the government chooses not to censor the content available to its citizens through the Internet. Morozov argues that this choice does not threaten the Russian form of government because people want what they cannot have, but since there is nothing that the government says they cannot have, the Russian citizens prefer to consume entertainment related media as opposed to political media. However, it is possible that if certain topics were censored, the Russian citizens would be more likely to seek out information on those topics more so than entertainment based media simply because of curiosity and the innate human instinct of wanting exactly what we are told we cannot have.

            Eli Praiser, on the other hand, describes how incredibly powerful companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook, are able to create programs that they embed into their websites and services that help to gather information on users, track searches, preferences, likes and dislikes, etc. This information can be useful in figuring out what to censor and how to go about doing it in a way that would be most effective, however, up until now, this information has largely only been used to generate more effect marketing and advertising strategies. Is this user usage data information that is being collected for various reasons immoral on every level or does it depend on what the information is being used for? Is it okay to collect such personal data from search histories, preferences, likes and dislikes if the information is being used for marketing purposes? What about if it is being used to learn how to better censor information that the government does not want its citizens to be aware of? In what other circumstances, do you think, that information gathering and censorship can be either moral or immoral?

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4 Responses to Morality of Information Gathering and Censorship

  1. alfein says:

    These questions that you pose at the end of your post are ones that I talked about in my blog post, as well. In deciding when and where it is okay to collect personal data is somewhat of a controversial subject, because many users of the internet do not realize that what they put on the internet is for anyones eyes. In regards to the government aspect, what level of censorship is appropriate? Should everyone be able to know everything, or is their a certain level of information that is better for citizens not to be aware of for their own protection? I think that when Morozov talks about how Russia lets their people view the cheap entertainment in order for them to stay preoccupied with things other than the government, it is a testament to the level of protection they want of their information. Who really knows what governments of every country knows, about all of their citizens and more. And in another point of view, can censorship ever be used to help people? And not just censorship, but data collection, is there a point in which this becomes useful rather than intrusive? These are all questions I wonder.

  2. Matt M says:

    I thought that you posed some really insightful questions at the end of your post. In regards to your first and second questions, I believe that the collection of user Internet usage data is moral if it is being used for the right reasons. One of the reasons which I see it to be completely moral is in relation to personalized marketing and advertisements. Lets face it, the web is full of advertisements. Practically every site I visit on the web has form of advertisement embedded into the page. I suppose it would be more useful for myself for the companies to use the information about my Internet usage as a means to provide advertisements which appeal to me in comparison to those which have no relevance to what I like or am interested in. When this Internet usage information gets into the hands of the wrong people, such as criminal groups or authoritarian governments, is when the real issues and fear arise. One of the issues I have with the collection of Internet usage is that websites such as Facebook and Google don’t make it readily apparent that they are tracking your Internet activities. If it was more broadcast to all the users of the Internet I would have less problem with it, because hey, they are telling you up front and personal exactly what they are doing. I am interested in how many Internet users are actually aware that sites such as Facebook and Google tracking their Internet usage and then selling it to other mass data collecting companies?

  3. zkanters says:

    You raise some interesting questions in your post, which I really enjoyed. While I find it somewhat frightening the amount of tracking that is going on when we’re surfing the Internet, I do not believe it is immoral on every level. Things such as information for which ads are specifically directed towards us, or our “likes” and “dislikes,” I do not find to be immoral. As a communication major very interested in marketing, I find it to be somewhat genius utilizing things such as Facebook to better get out your product to a more specific group that is more likely to buy. However, that being said, the government’s use of this information, or their use of censorship is what I find immoral, and it scares me. Things such as hiding information, or events- as they do quite often in some authoritarian communities. Additionally, if everything is being tracked, who says that it won’t get into the wrong hands? Since the internet is this open community, how could someone ever be appointed to censor the censorship? It seems like it will be a never ending battle.

  4. Hannah says:

    I agree with the three responses on this post so far in saying that collecting personal data from users is a moral, ethical means of finding out information about consumers. However, I think that when a facebook/twitter/other social media user provides their information on the internet, they are providing it for the means of their personal and social lives rather than their consumer lives, and therefore they are unaware of the valuable information they are providing. The internet and social media are so new that people have not been able to recognize the value in their privacy and their preference information. The internet is also an interesting means of confession for some users, as the book points out that people share things online that they wouldn’t necessarily share with an intimate friend. This degree of anonymity, however, is a complete illusion to users whose information is being picked up by corporate giants. For example, many people tweeted about how they wanted the president to be assasinated during his inauguration. The problem here has nothing to do with morals, but rather adaptation to a new form of expression and what possibilities can come from this medium.

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