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.