Private Anonymity

Privacy isn't dead. Anonymity is.

Privacy isn't dead. Anonymity is.

Note: I wrote this about a week ago with the intention of posting it up with the appropriate photo when the mood stuck me. Given the recent celebrity nude photo leak/hack. I figure it would be a good time to put this up. Which also meant I had to get creative with the photo.

They say that privacy is dead. As someone who grew up during the early years of the internet, I always considered it to be an overly sensitive headline. Something people who can't keep up with the ever changing pace of technology would say. I say it differently. I say that privacy is not dead. It never was. Privacy is very much alive. It is anonymity that is dead.

I recently updated my phone to the latest version of Windows Phone and with it, finally bringing Microsoft's own digital personal assistant to the game, alongside iOS's Siri and Google's Google Now. The first most obvious thing I realised going through all the options is that for Cortana to work to its fullest potential, I have to allow her to access almost every part of my digital footprint. Location, emails, social networks, interests and most definitely by default, search metadata.

Thing is, I accepted these conditions right away, leaving them to default as they were. It was the same as when I activated Google Now on my Nexus 7, allowing Google to go through my data. As much as I, an educated and experienced user of the digital age, understand that I am allowing these companies to go through my data for their own profit, I am also being given a service that would help me make my life easier.

A lot of armchair privacy advocates would say that such casual openess with our personal information is a portent of doom and gloom, heck, my mother regularly chastises me with my openness on social networks. However I don't think this is necessarily true. Like how we have dealt with privacy in a pre-digital age, a lot of what we put out comes down to common sense. I like to think that this is why older non tech savvy relatives and inexperienced mobile phone generationals fail so badly when it comes to digital privacy. Both age groups have no idea what they are doing.

Let's put it in a simpler context. Whenever I am tasked with the option of sharing my information on a digital level, I always ask myself two important questions.

1. Am I comfortable with the possibility that everyone will know what I will be sharing online?
2. Are there any adverse consequences to myself and the people around me should people know what I will be sharing online?

If I answer yes for the first and no for the second, then I'm all set to put whatever I want up online. This doesn't mean that privacy is dead, it means you have a choice on what you want to leave as private.

So now, we'll put this in a non-digital context. Let's say I have a fairly offensive shirt that goes along the lines of "I hate black gay Jews" (Obvious disclaimer: I don't own a shirt like this and I have no bias against race, the LGBT community, and religion). I'll ask myself the very same questions as above. Am I comfortable wearing it in public? Of course I wouldn't be so that puts an end to publicly displaying it, but for the sake of argument, let's assume I'm one of the worst kinds of bigots. Are there any adverse consequences should I wear it in public? Given the polarising social backlash of the current climate, it's obvious there would be. So even if I am some kind of homophobic racist (I stress again, I am not one), common sense dictates I shouldn't wear something like that in public.

If people apply the same kind of common sense to the digital world, it is perfectly clear that privacy has never died. We have a choice, and we will always have a choice on what we choose to share with others. What internet takes away from us and I think that's what many people are struggling to realise is that you're no longer another face in the crowd.

Sure, at the end of the day, we can be catagorised as just part of a larger subset of data for corporations to make use of. However, in that data lies core information of who we are. Name, age group, income bracket, interests. People will argue that the knowledge of this alone is a violation of privacy, but it's no different from pre-digital era data mining. If that kind of personal detail is the basis of privacy violations, then privacy was dead a long time before the internet came of age.

It's thanks to the digital age, that it's easier to process large amounts of information to put a face to the data that corportations want. It doesn't mean that they will know your most intimate secrets (unless you lack the common sense to put it for all to see), it just means that they know enough to sell you the things it thinks you need. The more you're willing to let it identify who you are, the better those services are for you. It's a trade off in that your face, literally and metaphorically, will be the key to a more convienient lifestyle. Everything else about you is inconsequential, unless you're willing to share it, and that maintains a level of privacy that people seem to forget they still have.

Addendum: When the news broke that a lot of private celebrity photos were leaked online, the backlash and outrage naturally followed the wave. One side seems to think that it was stupid of them to upload their photos onto a secure cloud. Others think that there is no difference from this incident and having your own home burgled with your private and intimate life taken and shown for the world to see. I think that, realistically at the end of the day, even though celebrities are human like the rest of us, deserving of private moments, it is their very nature as celebrities that makes them a target for people who have nothing better to do in their lives, except to ruin someone else's day. It never excuses idiots from doing such a thing, but it means that as people in the spotlight, celebrities need to have an extra awareness of what goes on in their lives in order to maintain a standard of privacy.

To end it, let's go back to Siri/Google Now/Cortana, and why I'm fine with giving them just enough personal information for them to work. If we consider actual personal assistants who manage the schedules of the wealthy and perpetually busy, they manage their bosses schedule for up to months at a time, they know where their bosses are and should be at any present time, they take their phone calls and messages should their bosses be busy, and they know what their bosses tastes enough to show them what they need to know and how they need to know.

I now have the more affordable version of that assistant in my pants, I just have to give up a few things like having my own coffee delivered personally in the morning. I'm sure I can live with that.

Returning To Roots

It's been such a long time since I've wrote here, it almost feels like a fresh start redoing the site and just writing something. That was the problem with Facebook and Twitter. I shared so much with it, that I got caught up with wanting to world to know what I heard, what I saw and what I felt.

It was when, what I thought became more private, that I began to realise that it was more important to just write it down, rather than just share. I did contemplate on writing, old school, in a physical journal, but having still own the domain name and this little slice of the internet, there was no sense letting it go to waste. Plus, it's a pain to get out and develop photos to glue into the journal. Awesome to do so, but I was never that kind of guy. Here at least, I can just upload it. That is when I figure out how best to do it in painlessly.

So, new title, new tagline, same journey through life while trying to put it in a perspective where I can accept. It's not much of a rebirth, but then again, it's not like I've found some new meaning to life anyway.

Leafy Greens

These days I've gone to eating a little healthier, not that I've completely given up on meat and fast food, but rather I've been trying to eat everything I want in much smaller portions than I'm used to eating. Sure I get hungry faster, but at the same time, I'm eating more times a day than I usually do. The result of which is that while I haven't lost much weight at all, being 1-2 kilos a week, I seem to be losing more fat than anything. Pants that used to fit me nicely are seemingly looser and shirts that couldn't really fit before now look better on me.

Of course, there are still pockets of fat that I do want to get rid off, but until I get into the habit of exercising, I'm not going to be losing the fat any faster. Not that it has bothered me before with my low self esteem and all, it's just that in thinking about my future, I want to at least get my cholesterol under control before it nips me in the butt heart.

Thankfully I have Melissa to help me get through this. Not that she's any less guilty of shovelling junk food into that slim tight body of hers, but as someone who can inexplicably grow strange vegetables from nothing, I'm glad I have someone who can give me my greens. Even if they come in the form of lettuce trees. Don't ask. She's as mad a scientist as I am to begin with.

My Public Parts Are Showing

While I understand why the issue of privacy on the internet is so important, I come from a generation that is willing to give up, or rather, have changed where my privacy priorities lie as so to traverse the internet better.

I for instance will not give my opinion as to my working conditions, or financial details and other professional matters of interest to the public. I will also not disclose more personal details between my partner and I, nor will I discuss matters pertaining to my family.

I will however, talk about my own self, how I am bipolar, my interests, dreams, aspirations, desires and to some extent and circles, my sexuality (which among Asian cultures is considered a taboo subject to approach). I understand what I am willing to share to people and the consequences that it may bring. I also have experience enough to know just how to talk about my own life to other people on the internet, making sure that my public personal life doesn't come back to bite me in the future.

More often than not, sharing my strengths and more importantly, my flaws, I've come to meet people who too have the same afflictions as I do. Their experienced has taught me to managed my condition in the more difficult times and as such I have taken to try and help them center themselves as well. It doesn't always work, but only because most people do not put stock in how real an online conversation can be in relation to actually meeting someone in person. A separate but not all too different issue from privacy altogether.

On the other hand, my partner views privacy in a German-like stance. That she needs to have a choice whereby she can never be tracked and she takes all steps to have a large wall between her private life and the internet. It took her years to start on Facebook and even so, she uses a pseudonym. She's nowhere near hypocritical in real life either considering she takes the same near paranoid steps to remain out of the lime-light in real life. That's why I'm writing only about her views on this, and not about anything that people can relate to her as a person.

The internet I believe needs to find a compromise between people such as my partner and people like myself. It is impossible and naive to believe that the internet can run properly without taking certain liberties to what we used to consider private information. Our public parts as +Jeff Jarvis puts it, ares now the clothes we wear as we take a stroll down the reality we call the internet. It is the identity we show to world as so we can communicate on the same level that body language does in a physical presence.

So rather than saying we should enforce an ability to not track us while we're online, we should hold accountable companies that require certain information about us to not misuse that information. The use of our information should be transparent to the public and steps should be taken to ensure the public can trust companies with their information.

At the same time, what the public needs to realise is that for as long as you are on the internet, nothing is really private. Like my decision to talk about my private life in public spaces, people have to be consciously aware of the consequences they might run into should they decide to just be on the internet, much like people should be consciously aware of their surroundings if they are crossing the road or waiting alone at bus stop.

This kind of common sense or street smarts towards the internet is not something that people can willingly adopt overnight, but nevertheless, if the internet is going to part of our culture and life, then we have no choice but to develop this kind of street smarts. No amount of opt-out choices or do-not-track enforcement is going to change how much the internet and our digitized representation of ourselves will matter now and the future.

This post was originally written in Google+ in response to another post I read written by Jeff Jarvis. It should also be noted that while I'm just another schmuck on the internet with another opinion on how things should be made better, Jeff Jarvis is actually a respected professor in all things pertaining to journalism and new media.

Reading Leaves

Not that I have been skivvying in my attempts to take 365+1 pictures a day, it's just that duty calls louder than the blog. You understand of course what it's like to be an ambitious career driven person with a partner that you want to dote every day.

If not, then well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

On the other hand, if you aren't really interested in my grasp for excuses, you can hop over to my Picasa page and look my pictures up. Even if I didn't blog about it, rest assured, there is always time to upload it for all to see. So enjoy.