Privacy is perhaps THE hot-button issue of today’s online world. The spectrum of opinions spreads as wide as the ocean, from conspiracy-minded militants against any sort of sharing to the hard-core data liberationists such as Mark Zuckerberg who believe that all your information should be public by default. I myself have become more secretive over the years, even though I might advocate for an actively managed digital footprint.So what is all the hoopla over privacy?
The issue, I think, is NOT that the online medium itself demands a new mode of privacy or publicity. It is, rather, than society has thus far failed to adequately adapt existing models thereof to said medium.
The failure to adapt existing models come from a misunderstanding – that has begun, over the past five or ten years, to be dispelled – about the ubiquity, rapidity, and publicity of the web. An example: early social networking adopters and/or younger populations were apt to make all of their information publically available (*this is a completely unsubstantiated claim). Why? It’s NOT because they believed all details of their lives should be public; rather, they simply didn’t realize that anyone around the world could view it. They might acknowledge that the web in theory was global, but in practice this reality never intruded into their day-to-day postings. So they might say things they intended for a private audience, with the assumption that in such a vast sea, no one would notice one little fish – like how, in the mall, you might make a comment to a friend out loud that you don’t think anyone around you is listening for. Over the past decade – a tiny sliver of time in human history – we have learned that this is not the case. Another example: the pervasive parent fear that chatting with strangers online leads to predation. But once again, it’s not that we weren’t concered about chatting with strangers before – we always told our kids not to talk with the creepy dude at the park. It’s just that we didn’t realize that on the internet, there are a thousand times as many creep dudes in the park. What about websites and services – such as iTunes and Facebook – that collect information about your computer usage habits? We’ve ALWAYS shared our usage habits with companies, every time we use a credit card (which credit card companies aggregate), order from a magazine, or fill out a survey. It’s just that the web has made it so much faster and automatic to do. And we should in many cases be happy to give companies our info because it helps them personalize their products to match our own preferences (example: Apple’s iTunes Genius, or Pandora, or Amazon’s book recommendations).
Okay, here’s the point that the preceeding paragraph tried and failed to make in a cogent manner: we DON’T have to change our ideas about privacy. We don’t need to open ourselves up to strangers, make ourselves more exhibitionist, or hide our spending patterns. We just need to SLOW DOWN and recognize that the Internet is changing society at a faster pace than at any time in human history. And while our course readings to date have encouraged teachers to be bold in technology adoption lest our students leave us behind, when it comes to online privacy, I say: Be conservative. You can always share more, but you can never unshare what you’ve already made public.
Bonus related privacy issue link: employers requiring potential employees to give up their personal Facebook passwords is outrageous.
Sorry for this desultory and aimless post – it would help for me to have a specific prompt to respond to =) But mea culpa, I suppose I could have found one online!