If privacy and the Internet is a disparate match, is sacred personal space an endangered phenomenon?

5 03 2010

Privacy is something we think we know. However, if you asked someone to define privacy half a century ago, I can almost guarantee that his or her answer would be noticeably different from the answer someone in the present would provide. In essence, what we consider privacy is not what it used to be. A significant influence contributing to the changing perspective on privacy is the Internet.

The Internet is a vast, often uncontrollable, entity that has provided many significant breakthroughs in the ways humans interact. It in due to this influence that some claim the idea of privacy has been turned upside down. Having just completed Daniel Solove’s book, the future of reputation, I am forced to consider how privacy is morphing towards a potential extinction.

Although Solove presents numerous perspectives regarding privacy and personal reputation within online communities, several factors stood out to me in particular.

The first factor is age. When is too young for someone to be inputting their life’s details online for the entire world to absorb? Seven years old is too young in my opinion. This is an example that Solove referenced in that seven year olds are now blogging on the Internet. This presents several problems. For one thing, at seven years old, children are unable to perceive the repercussions of their actions. This is particularly true with regard to intangibles such as online, electronic submissions. Secondly, at such a young age, a person lacks the maturity to effectively weigh risk. In turn, tremendous vulnerability can spring from seemingly innocent blog posts. What happens if a child posts their home address or phone number? If a pedophile happens to be tracking the blog, a serious problem could spring from this seemingly innocent contribution to the online world. Furthermore, actions by minors online affect their parents, as parents are the ones who are legally responsible for their children’s conduct. This allows for the possibility that parents, in addition to their child, could face overtly negative consequences from sharing information online.

Underlying everyone of the privacy related issues examined in Solove’s book are norms. In Solove’s own words, “a norm is a rule of conduct, one less official than a law, but sometimes as improper to transgress…Norms are widely known and widely observed rules of social conduct (84).” That being said, norms serve as the foundation to individual and societal actions. As such, norms have traditionally provided everyone a sense of entitlement to live their life with a measured degree of secrecy, a separation between one self and the prying eyes and ears of others.

Please reread the prior sentence, placing emphasis on the word traditionally.

The Internet may be changing not just the premise of privacy but also the relevancy of the entire concept. One consideration Solove touches on in the book is if privacy has a place in the future? Will there be a need, desire or ability to maintain privacy as humans rapidly accelerate deeper into the twenty-first century? Pondering this possibility within group discussions, classmates of mine predicted what norms maybe utilized in the year 2020 regarding privacy. The primary norms that were predicted include:

  • No anonymous posts online, everything is tied to an identity
  • Opt-in security and privacy protection measures instead of opt-out
  • Expectation to share life online, possibly ostracized if not
  • Expected to make connections with others so as to remain socially relevant
  • Always on, some degree of constant functionality online

I cannot claim to know how many, if any, of these predictions will prove the test of time. One point was raised though relating to these predictions that makes me seriously doubt the benefit of eroding privacy. If privacy were essentially to be expunged, replaced with an always-on mentality, would people become masks or illusions of their true selves as a default protective mechanism to being constantly exposed? Fear of being ostracized for expressing true feelings, opinions and perspectives would result in people living within a shell of their true identities because of the ever-present knowledge that someone is watching.

Before my whole life goes online, who’s calling the shots here??!?

28 09 2009

People are social creatures. Sure, there are varying degrees of truth to this but underlying our existence as life forms is our reliance on others for a wide variety of reasons. As babies we rely upon parents or caregivers to supply food, we interact with our peers as we mature, we turn to others for advice on a plethora of topics and most of us appreciate a good laugh or two among friends.

With that in mind, social networks are increasingly becoming hotbeds of activity as we move more of our daily lives online. We seek out answers to questions online; we socialize via Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging programs. Greater reliance upon online resources presents dependability issues. Will the tools we rely upon continually be there? Can we trust the tools we are using to help us or will they hurt us? Furthermore, who is control of these tools we use? A much more significant question is who is calling the shots throughout the Internet? Control is becoming one of those topics people approach with great care, skittishly poking and nervously prodding without an idea of what to expect. Internet control is the metaphorical gorilla in the room, a gargantuan one at that. More superficial examples of this struggle are exemplified today in countries such as China and North Korea where government factions hold reign over public Internet access. Is this a proper course of action? If you ask anyone who has experienced the freedom of open Internet access and the ability to speak their mind, the answer would most likely be a resounding no. Democracy extends its advantages to the online space as well in this regard. However, even democratic societies will have to tackle the issue of Internet control soon because the over exertion of control by single-minded individuals or groups could present tremendous problems by silencing perspectives that free populations appreciate. In turn, a worldwide domino effect can result as different sides vie for the ability to have the last word. That last word could be laying the potential groundwork for the Internet’s future.

Who is really in control?

Who is really in control?

To muddle the topic of Internet control even further, the concept of a lifelog is becoming gradually closer to reality. The term if in reference to a person essentially having every record of their existence placed online, accessible through the Internet. I like to think of this as an electronic Social Security card, passport and birth certificate combined into one while vulnerable to electronic eavesdropping. Call me pessimistic but I see tremendous problems with putting people’s lives online to such an extent that privacy becomes a foreign concept. Granted, I may be presenting my perspective on these topics through the view of someone living in the year 2009. Perhaps, over the next few years, people will realize and believe in a shift towards greater trust in the Internet to such a degree that becoming a “person” online is comforting. I can assure you of one thing though; I want to know who is in control of the Internet before I will be translating my real life into an all-encompassing electronic existence.