My coworker and I go back and forth on the issue of online privacy.
He believes, quite simply, privacy is dead, and its death is a good thing for current and future generations. The popularity of blogging, photo, video and streaming sites proves that. Young people today are growing up in a world where sharing all kinds of personal information with other people and businesses is the norm. Young people are comfortable with it.
Young people embrace it.
I argue privacy is still alive and kicking, that no one really wants to willingly give up personal privacy — especially online. Not everyone wants the world to know where they are, what they're doing, what they're thinking, what they're buying. There's a lot to be said for being able to disconnect from the Net and get away from the digital eyes and ears of the world.
My coworker counters that privacy is important to me only because I'm part of an older generation and I'm still culturally tied to the way things were, not the way they are. His generation, on the other hand (and the coming generations) have no qualms about who knows what about whom. His view: If everyone can know everything about everyone else, then the playing field is level among everyone in that regard. No secrets.
I really hope that isn't the case. I hope we're not entering an age where privacy is just a word and not a basic concept that needs to be preserved and protected.
As early as May 2000, the growing lack of privacy in the digital age was a topic of concern.
University of Miami Law Professor A. Michael Froomkin, writing in the Standford Law Review, observed, “The rapid deployment of privacy-destroying technologies by governments and businesses threatens to make informational privacy obsolete. ... These include: routine collection of transactional data, growing automated surveillance in public places, deployment of facial recognition technology and other biometrics, cell-phone tracking, vehicle tracking, satellite monitoring, workplace surveillance, internet tracking ... The cumulative and reinforcing effect of these technologies may make modern life completely visible and permeable to observers; there could be nowhere to hide.”
I think the less privacy we have, the fewer freedoms we’ll have. There’s an old proverb that says, “It is easier to ride with a wave than to stand against it.”
The greater the number of people who know where you stand or what you believe on anything, the greater the pressure will be on you to conform your beliefs, views and actions to “the norm.”
Individuality will disappear because it's too hard to stand alone against a world that knows everything about you and where the majority have views different from you.
I'm reminded of various sci-fi stories, TV episodes and movies where the plot centers on mindreading. Sudeenly, everyone in the world can read everyone else's minds. Chaos, anger and fighting ensue. Relationships and friendships are destroyed because secrets are no longer kept, personal opinions are no longer unspoken, surprises are nonexistent.
Human nature being what it is, a world without privacy opens the door for people who like to hurt others for often petty reasons. A jealous friend may reveal something embarassing about you. A person who believes he has been sleighted by you might tell the world (and interested burglars) you're on vacation and no one is home right now. A lack of privacy makes work easier for identity thieves.
If young people today don't seem to care about privacy, I think it's less a conscious choice on their part and more a case of youthful naivety.
Rob Killick, CEO of cScape, a digital strategies and development agency, notes young people routinely, “record on blogs and social network sites minute and often embarrassing, even incriminating, details of their lives.
“... Once sent off, what happens to the content is up to the recipient.
“What we write and say always has consequences and learning this lesson is simply part of growing up."
Young people can't appreciate yet the future implications of what they reveal to the world on the Internet today through photos, videos, blog entries and more. They're not thinking about their lives at 30, 40 or 50.
They're living in the moment.
But we are starting to see the impact of past actions on future situations. At least once a week, there's a story about someone who lost a job or job opportunity or was pushed into the media spotlight because embarrassing photos or writings by that person posted years earlier resurfaced online.
I think young people today are setting themselves up for future problems because they aren't paying enough attention to digital privacy.
In January 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg declared the concept of privacy was over, saying, “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”
I hope time and sensibility prove him wrong.
Froomkin: The Death Of Privacy?
Facebook Amnd The Death Of Privacy
The Death Of Privacy
Mark Zuckerberg Interview: Jan. 2010
Do We Share Too Much Online?
Facebook’s Gone Rogue
(Keith Darnay has worked in the online world for more than a decade, the traditional media world for a few decades more and manages the online department and website for the University of Mary. His own site, featuring this column going back to 1995, is at www.darnay.com.)