Spies and the Internet
The year started off with revelations from Google that China was attacking the Web giant’s corporate infrastructure (Google Reveals Chinese Espionage Efforts). The company said, among other things, that the attackers went after Gmail accounts belonging to Chinese human-rights activists, and that 20 other large companies had also been targeted.
That was the first of many examples of how the Internet is changing the way secrets are being kept and revealed. In April, researchers from the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs detailed how over the course of several months social sites helped hackers steal classified documents from the Indian government (Social Sites Cover Chinese Hackers’ Tracks).
But the name that became synonymous with sharing secret information was Julian Assange’s Wikileaks (Everything You Need to Know About Wikileaks). In the summer, U.S. officials were still probing for the source of 91,000 war documents that the site had posted (The Hunt for the Wikileaks Whistle-Blower). At the end of the year, the site began to release a trove of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables. U.S. officials called for the site to be shut down, triggering a series of back-and-forth denial-of-service attacks by the site’s detractors and supporters (DIY Censorship).
Even as large organizations struggled with the Internet’s capacity for collecting and revealing secrets, individuals fought a different version of the privacy battle. Social networking sites have continued to grow in popularity, and users are trusting them with more information than ever before. At the same time, those sites are looking to make money, and that often means selling data about users. Sites such as Facebook have made a number of changes to facilitate their business models, challenging users’ privacy in the process (The Changing Nature of Privacy on Facebook).
Google launched a new social network, Buzz, that drew fire when it automatically connected users to people they had previously e-mailed. Google frantically backpedaled and adjusted the social network’s features (A Steady Buzz of Changes).
Not all privacy violations resulted from decisions websites have made. In some cases, sites leaked data inadvertently, giving users more reasons to be concerned about the data that companies store (Peeking Into Users’ Web History).
Despite having many reasons to be vigilant, users were for the most part undeterred. Oddly, a study found that people are actually more likely to trust their information to sites that seem less likely to store it securely (How Websites Make You Spill Your Secrets).