Considering the Business and Government Viewpoints

The invention of the Internet has created a revolution in the way people go about finding information and even purchase goods. With the marked increase of Internet use, and the growing amount of commerce and exchange happening on the Internet, some kind of control device has become seemingly necessary. The need for Internet control has led to the creation of computer tracking devices by companies such as Microsoft and Intel. Along with many other mass forms of communication control (radio, television, telephone, etc.), debate continues over the ability to control both offensive acts occurring on the Internet and yet still protect freedom of speech. Now, debate over these computer tracking capabilities seems to have pit businesses against the private citizen.   Devices such as Microsoft's GUID, and the Intel Pentium III Serial Number have been praised by businesses, but roundly criticized by consumer privacy advocacy groups (see Big Brother Inside). Many private citizens feel that Internet tracking capability is a breach of personal privacy. Businesses maintain that while small aspects of personal privacy may be lost, the advantages of tracking capabilities far outweigh the disadvantages.

Much of the need for tracking capabilities was born out of the need to make the increasing amounts of e-commerce more secure. Both business and government realize with growing awareness that some kind of method was necessary to ensure secure transactions via the Internet.  George Vinson, a  former FBI cybercrime unit member who is now with Deloitte & Touche's computer security practice, claims, "Now that e-commerce is coming online and getting bigger and bigger, the fraud and criminal activity that used to be committed with fax and phone is moving onto the Internet" (Wired News).

Fraud and criminal activity had not only moved to the Internet because the Internet was the newest technology, but rather because the ability to track down criminals that operated online did not exist; it required new tools.  Criminals had found a medium upon which there was little if any policing, and almost no laws for the prosecution or even definition of cybercrime. Hence, criminals were working in a virtual Candyland, and business and government saw the need for some sort of solution.   Seeing the opportunity to diversify into another aspect of computer technology, companies such as Microsoft and Intel Pentium came up with devices to not only help users track personal documents and other data, but also to ensure the proper identity of users for purposes of Internet commerce. Microsoft and Intel claim that devices such as the GUID and the Pentium III chip were not designed to invade privacy, but rather to be able to establish accountibility, protect ownership and track lost data.

By encoding serial numbers into each document, lost work is traceable and retrievable. "The intent was, if you took a document and moved that document somewhere, (to) be able to clean up those links," (Rob) Bennett (of Microsoft) said. "So a specific number called a GUID, a globally unique identifier, is generated so that ... the software knows (how) the document was stored originally and it can go and clean up the link" (CNN Interactive). However, later in the interview Bennett says that Microsoft will delete this valuable tool in order to make the public happy.  He still maintains, however, that the intent was never to track the behavior of the user, but the GUID was just a number to help the software track things more easily (CNN Interactive).

The buying and selling of consumer information has been happening for years, even many years prior to the Internet. The Internet and networked computer databases have simply provided a medium that allows for more effective compiling and merging of databases into larger and more accurate databases. The provision of information via the Internet has given businesses the ability to intelligently target people for advertisement reasons. Rather than receiving many advertisements that a user is not interested in, businesses can tailor their advertisements to those users that they believe would have an interest in their goods. In this way, a win-win situation is established; business spends less money advertising to people that are not interested in the goods, and customers are not bombarded with junk mail that they do not want.

Businesses are also proponents of Internet tracking capabilities due to the belief that the ability to verify a person's identity leads to more secure business practices. By having the ability to verify a customer's identity, for example, the possibility of fraud via online commerce would be greatly reduced. CNN news interviewed an Intel spokesperson who gave several positive examples of what tracking devices could do to improve the life of the average Internet user.

"The ID numbers, meanwhile, will allow online stores as well as banks and health care providers to verify that the people they are dealing with are in fact who they claim to be. The ID numbers could also help protect against computer theft, because the ID number will enable them to be tracked if they are used on the Internet,  (Intel spokesperson Seth) Walker said" (CNN Interactive).

Tracking capabilities could also be useful for reducing any kind of misrepresentation in Internet transactions. Perhaps the inability for a computer user to anonymously work at a business computer would perhaps place a great damper on the desire to commit fraud on company computers. And it seems as though businesses have good reason to be so pleased to be able to track computer activity; there have been several well-reported cases of computer fraud that have been cracked due to as least partial use of the computer tracking systems. Possibly the most well known example of this type of tracking would be the role of the Microsoft GUID in tracking down the creator of the infamous Melissa virus.  Coupled with the help of America Online's membership records, the GUID and AOL managed to come up with the phone number leading to the computer that originally posted the virus to a USENET newsgroup. While the AOL phone number was the key evidence that led to the arrest of David Smith for the writing of the Melissa virus, the Microsoft GUID had linked together many pieces of evidence that also helped convince officials that other bits of software connected with the same GUID as the Melissa virus all led to David Smith. This will provide stronger evidence in court than just a phone number, since many other pieces of written material all connected with the same GUID all lead to David Smith.

While many private Internet users loathe the idea of their personal activity being so easily traced on a computer, examples such as the ability to catch a person who was causing great amounts of computer damage may well make it worth the lack of privacy.  Many experts, such as Richard Pethia, director of the Computer Emergency Response Team at Carnegie Mellon University, warn that future viruses "could easily be much harder to detect, spread even more quickly, and cause significantly more damage" than Melissa. (Wired News) It is inevitable that while there is an Internet, there will be those who try to abuse it, and it seems as though with all other things in life, there needs to be some jurisdiction over the activity that occurs over different types of mediums. Software companies have repeatedly claimed to have no interest in the activities of their online customers, and that the tracking devices will not be abused in order to invade the privacy of citizens.  However, when cybercrime occurs, and can cause as much or more damage than Melissa, it is nice to know that there is a way for officials to track the perpetrator and prosecute.

Human behavior has been examined for ages not to invade the privacy of individuals, but rather to ensure that individuals are not invading the rights of others. Our society sees examples of this type of monitoring in every day life. Pornographic material is not allowed to be placed on prime time television, so that there is little chance that children will inadvertently tune into offensive material. Pornographic material has its place on television, and this rule is strictly enforced. Someone who placed pornographic material on prime time television could argue their right to Freedom of Speech, but our freedoms only exist so far as they do not impede upon the freedoms of others. In this way, Internet tracking devices are not available because computer companies and government agencies are desirous of spying on one's everyday life. Rather, the devices exist so that if someone chooses to misuse the Internet, there are ways to track the individual and stop the crime. Without such devices, sophisticated computer users could eventually become almost unstoppable as the ability of officials to prosecute wanes with their ability to positively identify the culprit.

Considering the "Private Citizen" Viewpoint

Big Business is
Watching You...

The Crux of the Issue;

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Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA).
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