Digital Media Privacy and Ethical Issues


The digital media has been defined as any form of content that is collected and stored in the “digital format,” which is usually readily distributed through the online platforms (Ess, 2013). Over the years, especially the early years of the 21st century, digital technology has greatly increased. In fact, the use of the digital content, as seen through the social media and the online platform, has targeted approximately all people across all social divides. The social media platforms allow subscribed people to share information and connect easily (Liu, Gummadi, Krishnamurthy & Mislove, 2011). However, the more the social media and related platforms that use digital information, the more the issues that regard ethics and privacy arise (Ess, 2013). Therefore, this paper focuses on evaluating the ethical and privacy issues that arise with the use of digital media. Special attention will be focused on using Facebook as a social media and the leading search engine “Google.” The major concern is anchored on how the websites collect and use the subscribers’ private information without the owners’ consent.

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The Origin and Use of Digital Media

The 20th century would be regarded as the century through which much of the current technological advancements were realized (Couldry, 2012). In fact, the century saw the increased use of mass media communication, increased use of telephony services through mobile telephony and computer services. Upon entry into the 21st century, more people were empowered to access similar services by the increased use of internet through public and personal computers as well as handheld technologies like the smartphones. Similar to the private individuals, business organizations have also taken advantage of increased use of the internet for own gains. Therefore, the organizations have invested in websites that use digital content to reach out to target markets and to communicate to the world (Couldry, 2012). Therefore, there is a general increase in the availability of private information in the online platforms such as websites and social media platforms. Among the largest organizations that are blamed for accessing too much personalized information from people are the “Google corporation” and the social media host, ‘the Facebook’ (Couldry, 2012). It is worth noting that people’s increased use of social media and the Google search engine would not be sorely considered a challenge to privacy and ethics (Shabtai, et al., 2010). However, the exploitation of the private information provided on the sites for the use of these sites without the consent of the subscribers forms the basis of the ethical and privacy concerns as alluded to by the paper.

Societies across the globe have realized great changes in the mode of communication in the era of digital media. A person would easily access news or reach another individual very fast by using the internet without interfering with the geographical distance (Liu, Gummadi, Krishnamurthy & Mislove, 2011). Therefore, blogs and social networking platforms have gained more popularity in recent years, and many people approve of their usefulness in communication (Ess, 2013). However, the increased demand for these platforms to private information without providing definite ways of safeguarding the information forms the basis of the discussion on the privacy and ethical issues with the use of digital media. The social media, as represented by the Google and the Facebook, acquire large amounts of personalized information from the users each day. Among other forms of private information that are put on the digital media platforms are status updates, phone numbers, email addresses, computer ID information and IP address (Ess, 2013). While giving the information on the media platforms would not be problematic, how the media companies utilize the information raises the concern, especially on privacy and ethics.

The Social Media Era

The use of online sites, which allow people to interconnect and interact via the internet, has increased in the recent past. Various social media platforms have come up which use a similar approach to have people subscribe and reach on to peers through public or private posts. By operating on the social media network, a company such as the Facebook does not only access the subscribers’ personal information, but decides how to utilize the information (Couldry, 2012). Therefore, one primary question regarding the use of information in the digital media platform arises concerning whether people have “privacy” when the social media is considered. Privacy in the case given regards the ability to control the use of one’s information, especially regarding the public. Therefore, one would be concerned about the divide between private and public information regarding digital media (Couldry, 2012). Collaboration among the social media users and the service providers should be encouraged to ensure that private information is handled appropriately.

Google has equally evolved from the search engine to provide an array of other services, such as the social networking through the Google + (Shabtai, et al., 2010). Therefore, it would be categorized as a social media platform. Besides, the Google Corporation has risen to become the leading internet traffic controller. The ability of the Google to guide internet searches and direct traffic and ads towards one’s site are all informed by the accessibility of the individual’s personal information (Shabtai, et al., 2010). For instance, directing cookies towards one’s account would explain that the company would access personal information. In fact, without having well-stipulated privacy policies, the company would sell the subscriber’s information to the third party whenever the need arises. Besides using cookies, the Google Company reaches to and utilizes private information from individuals and businesses through Google AdSense, Google AdWords, and the Google Chrome as a web browser (Shabtai, et al., 2010). Just as with Facebook, these Google features work through accessing much of the personalized information.

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Privacy Issues

The digital media platforms, including Facebook, face much privacy related concerns, which involve the amounts and nature of private information collected and the privacy settings established to ensure that the information provided is safeguarded against improper access and use. For example, through the Facebook database, third party agents would easily access subscribers’ information (Hargittai, 2010). As such, the availability of the personal information to the public domain without personal consent would be challenged on compromising on an individual’s right to privacy. The development of such features as the “Facebook graph search tool” were criticized for increasing the access of private information by third parties, which would be considered to be against the privacy policy frameworks (Hargittai, 2010). The concerns raised on infringed privacy led to the addition of such features and settings that a person would use to limit the access and use of private information without own consent. Nevertheless, such features are not universal with other digital media platforms. Ethical concerns arise in the sale of the private information of the subscribers to advertising companies without consulting the owners. While such a strategy is to remain relevant and in the lead in the digital media market, the approach would compromise the ethics and privacy rights of the owners of the information (Liu, Gummadi, Krishnamurthy & Mislove, 2011). The scams, hacks, and data leaks have been characteristic of most digital media platforms, thereby illustrating how far the increased use of the same would compromise an individual’s privacy.

While some of the information gathered from the social media would be used for legal matters, ethics would have it that an individual should be aware of such a policy by the company before subscribing and providing all the private information often disclosed. Other features in the technological advancement of the digital gadgets are GPS enabled; therefore, the more an individual uses the gadgets for accessing digital media content, the service providers would be able to access more private information. The advancement of technology to have the social media platforms like Facebook provide facial recognition has been widely exploited for photo identification purposes, especially for criminal and security purposes (Hargittai, 2010). Nevertheless, critics would point out the weakness in the use of the technology by indicating that it would compromise the privacy of the subscribers as well as whether the information gathered would be used ethically.

Ethical Issues

Ethical principles regarding the topic of digital media would concern the trust that the social media users would accord the service providers as influenced by the integrity observed in the management and use of private information (Ess, 2013). At other times, the service providers are expected to put the right procedures for safeguarding the information disclosed by the users. However, the more the people become inclined to the digital media, the more the ethical concerns that arise. For example, the increased use of portable cameras and such gadgets as cell phones with cameras has enabled people to film some happenings easily or take photos, which are then shared across the social media (Ess, 2013). In fact, the social media has become the leading platform by which information is shared. In this regard, ethical concerns arise with the issue that people would easily circulate images or information, which would be considered unethical. The lack of a system by which to filter such content as being circulated via the digital media would be blamed in facilitating the vice (Couldry, 2012).

Other instances of concern are the increased access to profane materials through the digital media platforms. The Internet has enabled virtually all the users to access any site where such materials as pornography would be easily accessed. Such contents would not be considered appropriate for consumption by the underage or otherwise by the public. Nevertheless, the availability of the content via the social sites increases the likelihood that even the underage or such people that would not be targeted access the same (Couldry, 2012). Service providers such as the Google have shown deliberate efforts and determination to improve the trust accorded by the users by ensuring that the right content in ads is used and that personal information is secured.

On the other hand, O‟Brien & Torres (2012) notes that Facebook observes over twenty-five billion pieces of information shared across the platform on a monthly basis. At least a billion new images are posted and shared on the digital media platform, and at least a hundred million likes to postings on the site are observed. Consequently, the marketers, employers, employees and other unintended third parties access the information shared. One would, however, argue that over the many years of operation, Facebook has implemented security measures to ensure that unintended parties do not easily access the information posted (Ess, 2013). Nonetheless, Facebook would be accused of ignoring the important aspect of protecting the customers’ information and being more concerned about the revenues generated by sharing the information with marketers. Overlooking the users’ privacy concerns would be considered detrimental to the trust that the users accord the organization (Couldry, 2012). As such, the concern for ethics and the place of ethics in Facebook would be justified. Similarly, as the Google works, Facebook keeps monitoring the changes done on users’ profiles to have the advertisers and the linked web pages respond by showing such ads as would be informed of the status posted. For instance, when individual changes own status to read engaged, then one would likely have to observe traffic of marketers of such products as wedding accessories and jewelry in anticipation of the possible wedding.

Moreover, the introduction of the Home App by the Facebook was informed by the need to increase on the survey of the individuals’ private information right from the cell phone (Hargittai, 2010). Therefore, the app collects the user’s information even without his/her consent. In fact, the app compromises on the user’s privacy in that it tampers with the working of the cell phone, thereby restricting the application of the security settings. Other features of Facebook, such as the facial recognition feature, would also be blamed on facilitating the infringement of the individual’s privacy as against the social purpose it meant (Hargittai, 2010). In fact, when used to identify individuals for victimization purposes, then the app would be considered unethical. Ethics would dictate the equal application of the law and the equal treatment of individuals as against being victims of circumstances (Ess, 2013).

It is worth noting that the governments and other interested parties approach the social media for records of an individual’s online operations without their consent. Therefore, the primary concern arises from such considerations in the application of the ethical standards of the social media operators in allowing the infringement of private rights as seen through the unauthorized access of individual information by other parties, such as the security agencies. Therefore, the social media has received numerous suggestions on improving trust with the users who happen to lose gradually in the light of the increased sharing of own information with unintended parties (Ess, 2013). Business ethics encourage the observation of integrity in handling customers for the sake of improved profitability. As such the general rule of ethical trading would have the business owner build trust with their customers for improved performances. In the illustrations provided, increased abuse of subscribers’ rights to privacy contravenes the standards of operation, which compromises the trust. Accordingly, the lowering of trust between the organization and the subscribers explains the ethical issues discussed.

Digital Media and Journalism

The ethical issues concerning digital media in news coverage revolve around the objectivity of reporting, accuracy, balance and such issues connected to public and private space (Phillips, 2010). The professional responsibility of managing, storing, and disseminating the information through the digital platform would revolve around ethics. For instance, when a person in the journalism profession finds information from an online platform and shares the information without first verifying the accuracy and factual representation, the information may be misleading. Such reporting would be blamed for the lack of observing ethics in the profession (Phillips, 2010).

The new phenomenon of the revolution of the digital ethics concerns the place of ethics in a modern digital era (Phillips, 2010). One must appreciate the revolution in performance frameworks in such industries as the journalism, which has had a direct effect on the growth of the social media and the digital reporting tools. The speed of reporting and the accuracy of the shared information hold to the discussion of ethics in digital media. While the traditional media emphasizes on information accuracy, as observed through editing before publishing, the digital media fail in this aspect as nearly every person publishes contents that are not verified (Phillips, 2010). In contrast, while the digital era concerns itself with speed and interaction, the traditional reporting media emphasizes on quality. Among the digital media’s major weaknesses is the compromised quality of information shared, which has adverse effects on ethical dimensions. Transparency would be pointed out as a major ethical issue, restoring trust in the journalism industry. Through the aspect of transparency, one would be concerned with confirming the credibility and reliability of the information before reporting. The increase in the use of unverified information as collected from the social site compromises on the ethics of the discipline.

The journalists would need to act more ethically in their responsibilities in collecting, monitoring, selecting, and the distribution of the news via the digital medium (Phillips, 2010). However, the changing times presents complex and diverse issues in the discipline of journalism and news reporting, which highly challenge the competence of the journalists in observing ethical standards. On the other hand, the public or the target audience chooses what to consume concerning the digital content presented. Therefore, online organizations would be challenged to present information that would be considered unethical by nature because of the demands of the online consumers (Phillips, 2010). Besides, the challenge to keep compromising on ethics for organizational gains in the competitive industry, as seen through the Google Corporation and the Facebook, presents the most serious challenge in the study of the digital media (Phillips, 2010).


The advancement of technology in the recent past has seen a revolution in the modes of communication and sharing of information, especially through social media. However, the challenges of compromise on the privacy of the users as well as the ethical concerns, are the dominant issues facing the digital media. This paper has established that the Google, the Facebook, and other media that are considered digital pose the challenge of increased sharing of private information entrusted to them without consulting the owners. Nevertheless, this paper recommends higher commitment by the organizations using the digital media platform to ensure ethical standards and privacy rights are observed and ensured to the consumers.



Couldry, N. (2012). Media, society, world: Social theory and digital media practice. Polity. Ess, C. (2013). Digital media ethics. Polity.

Hargittai, E. (2010). Facebook privacy settings: Who cares?. First Monday, 15(8).

Liu, Y., Gummadi, K. P., Krishnamurthy, B., & Mislove, A. (2011, November). Analyzing facebook privacy settings: user expectations vs. reality. In Proceedings of the 2011 ACM SIGCOMM conference on Internet measurement conference (pp. 61-70). ACM.

O’Brien, D., & Torres, A. M. (2012). Social networking and online privacy: Facebook users’  perceptions. Irish Journal of Management, 31(2), 63-97.

Phillips, A. (2010). Transparency and the new ethics of journalism. Journalism Practice, 4(3), 373-382.

Shabtai, A., Fledel, Y., Kanonov, U., Elovici, Y., Dolev, S., & Glezer, C. (2010). Google android: A comprehensive security assessment. IEEE Security & Privacy, (2), 35-44.

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