So Just How Much Privacy Do You Really Have / Need Online?
Sounds like one of those trick questions, but like with so many things the answer really depends on your point of view, (and perhaps on what you can get in exchange for said privacy). The real question I think ought to be: “what is your privacy really worth to you”?
Last month saw the BCS launch of a new book on privacy called “Virtual Shadows” by Karen Lawrence Oqvist. This event included a talk, by the author, on the topic of privacy and the information age, and it provided much food for thought / discussion for the attendees. Some key messages include:
- Vast amounts of your personal information are already available online, (e.g. from your Internet activities, transactions and interactions, as well as participation in Web 2.0 social networking), so get over the idea of any online privacy by default. My favourite quote: “…remember that anything posted online becomes public immediately and remains in cyberspace indefinitely”
- Government databases and other such repositories of personal information hold a lot of sensitive data about individuals, but the manner in which it is collected and used may also be eroding some individual rights to privacy. (Read more in this recent article by The Register)
- Children are particularly at risk from commercial and other forms of exploitation. Period.
- There’s still no such thing as free: especially for some of the “free” online services which typically work by offering something of value (e.g. content / search results / social network) in exchange for your personal information (e.g.: age / sex / location / income / online habits) or attention to adverts.
It is patently obvious that the ways in which we perceive and use personal data is changing very rapidly; because where typically an individual might expect to have some claim on personal privacy, (perhaps even as a fundamental human right), the signs point towards a future where such quaint notions of privacy might well end-up a historical artifact in our relentless march towards information nirvana. Why else do we have inane reality TV shows for every topic under the sun, and moon? Aren’t we really trying to de-sensitize ourselves to a future where lack-of-privacy is the norm? The online / mobile social networking services are slowly evolving into minutiae-based, stream-of-life feeds that, in extreme form, could effectively strip away any semblance of individual privacy. This in itself is not necessarily an issue, as long as people are allowed the power / means to manage (but not necessarily control) their own private information. The real battle remains over which party should have overall control of personal information: is it the individual, the service provider / counterparty, or a third party (e.g. government or even employers)?
Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.