InsightaaS: There are a few patterns that can be observed in ATN’s approach to the content we feature: we enjoy contrarian points of view, we like to focus on security/privacy on Fridays if we come across something compelling during the week, and we are big fans of David Moschella and his posts in CSC’s Leading Edge Forum. Given all of the preceding, a post by Moschella entitled “The Internet Has Been a Huge Privacy Plus, Thus Far” is a natural for a Friday feature!
For the most part, any opinion linking “internet” and “privacy” is negative, focused on the ways in which our personal information is exposed on the web. Moschella acknowledges this (“everyone should be concerned about the potential for a dystopian panopticon“), but highlights the fact that there is “another side to the story,” claiming that “thus far, the internet…has increased our privacy by much more than it has reduced it.” He notes that “most privacy concerns…remain largely hypothetical,” with relatively few actual cases of intrusion. Meanwhile, the anonymity afforded by the net gives people the ability to “privately learn more about a disease, drugs, sex, bankruptcy or anything that might be deemed politically incorrect” without inviting questions from neighbours or relatives.
As Moschella points out, though, “past performance does not predict future returns,” and the ever-increasing ability of Big Data to connect multiple points around a unique individual, coupled with increased use of behavioural profiling, means that our online anonymity may not provide the same kind of privacy protection in the future that it has in the past. Our “digital auras” (a phrase Moschella prefers to synonymous “digital exhaust”) may be impacting the ways that individuals and businesses interact with the web and with each other. Moschella concludes by observing that privacy considerations haven’t been a major barrier to IT industry progress. But this may well be changing…”
Cameras are everywhere. Someone wearing Google Glasses might be videoing you at any time. Facebook has conducted secret psychological tests on its users. The US National Security Agency and other government agencies around the world are monitoring far more of our communications than most of us thought. Today’s internet giants are developing multi-dimensional virtual profiles for all of us — tracking where we have been, what we do, who we know, and more. Paparazzi drones, anyone?
While everyone should be concerned about the potential for a dystopian panopticon, where everybody is watching everybody else, there is another side to the story. Thus far, the internet has been a huge privacy plus, meaning that it has increased our privacy by much more than it has reduced it. The key question is whether this will continue throughout the Big Data era.
The many ways that technology has improved individual privacy are fairly obvious, but for whatever reasons, they tend to go unmentioned. But imagine if you lived in a small town in the pre-internet era. The cashier at the local book store, who may recognize you, saw what books or magazines you bought. You might want to date new people, but be reluctant to put an ad in the local newspaper. If you wished to privately learn more about a disease, drugs, sex, bankruptcy or anything that might be deemed politically incorrect, you were mostly out of luck. The overall effect could be claustrophobic.
One of the reasons many people choose to live in cities is that urban areas provide much more anonymity. But the internet provides even greater privacy, regardless of where you live…