Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Delusion of Privacy

"I can see you."

What is the meaning of privacy, in the 21st Century? Does it even still exist, or is it, like the dragon, a myth, or like the bengali tiger, near extinction?

With everything we read on the internet, it is amazing how some people still fall for the guise of privacy. The most common example I can give is, when registering on a website, for an email, a newsletters, blogs, forums etc. does anyone actually ever read the privacy statement? No. Yet we all tick the box that reads "I have read and understood the Privacy Statement".

It would be better if the box read "I haven't read the Privacy statement but agree anyway as I have no choice in the matter".

In the online, digital world of zero's and one's, the term privacy is a myth. Nothing done online is private, there is always a trail, for some it is as confusing as schematics for a nuclear submarine, for others it is as clear as day.

Google, has become both a noun and a verb, just like wikipedia (abbreviated to "wiki-ed"). Simply type your name on google and see what shows up. You do not have to be a celebrity to find your "dirty laundry", be it a website you recently registered with, a profile you do not wish your family and friends to see, an update you made to your facebook/twitter/myspace page etc. At times, the information that pops up is embarassing, and you would rather not have complete strangers knowing such details about your life (you joined a group for those in credit debt for example).

What people fail to realise is, albeit the world wide web being a vast, deep, ocean of information, what life you lead online is not cloaked in anonymity, you no longer have to be a tech-wiz to find out about people. You no longer need to hire a private investigator to dig up dirt on someone, all you need is an internet connection and a quick wit.

Example: someone sends you an email asking about how you are etc, an old friend or recent acquaintance. Take said email, search facebook, if said person is not as savvy about their privacy, you will be able to view pictures, read comments etc. And there you go, you have officially stalked a person.

I need not count the many cases of which employees were sacked, doctors licenses revoked, and lives torn asunder as a direct result of posts and postings made online, the most recent example being CNNs Middle East Editor for posting the following comment to her twitter account:

"Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah... One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot."

Did Octavia Nasr violate a penal code that warranted her dismissal? She merely expressed her opinion, in a sea of opinions that are expressed on twitter, much like Gen. McChrystal. Was it on work-time, probably, probably not. The fact remains that due to a decision made outside the scope of work, albeit being loosely related to work (in Octavia's case, not McChrystal's), the penalty was paid in the work-place.

Now, you have friends on facebook who post pictures of themselves getting hammered, wasted, high etc. You might think, "well I'm no celebrity, why would anyone besides my friends care to investigate me?"

The biggest problem lies with people is their lack of understanding as to the gravity of the situation of privacy. Companies have come out and said directly we view potenial applicants FTM (facebook/twitter/myspace) pages before making the decision of whether to hire them or not. And this is where the issue becomes sticky.

So the pictures you took at last night's beer-n-bongs over at your friends house, for which he subsequently posted the pictures and tagged you in them, will eventually end up being seen by a complete stranger. It is inevitable.

The issue of privacy is currently being debated on one of the hottest trend online; World Of Warcraft. The issue at hand is simply that the management want users of the forums to post under their real names, and not their avatars or aliases. Sounds simple right?

Wrong. As one player points out, he does not want the fact that he enjoys online-gaming to be made public, as it would damage his reputation in the workplace. Now, he is not a stripper, or a hooker, he merely enjoys online-gaming, its not poker, its not gambling. Yet, c'est la vie.

People refuse to understand. They believe the right to privacy exists.

Remember, Big Brother is Watching.

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