Privacy and Anonymity

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Privacy Alert

The world of the Internet seems to be having a face-off with the concepts of privacy and anonymity.  Google is under criminal investigation for its streetview data on GoogleMaps (BBC News).  Wikileaks is under siege since one of its anonymous sources, a certain ‘rogue’ Bradley Manning (a 22-year-old who had just broken up with his girlfriend and been demoted), has been outted.  Facebook is literally enjoying a face-off with the half the internet world (the French press had four front page articles yesterday on the issues of privacy on Facebook — here for example on LeMonde and Eco89).  And, a few days ago, the European (CNIL) made a formal complaint to the big three American search engines regarding concerns on privacy (LeMonde).

At first blush (and erroneously), I cannot help but think that this is a backlash of the “conservatives” against the exuberance of the Gen Y or, as LeMonde describes it, the battle between those who relish transparency and those who prefer opacity and obscurity.  However, there is clearly a larger societal issue at hand.  If QuitFacebookDay managed to garner a rather paltry 36,000 signatures (35,000 of whom signed up by the prescribed date May 31, 2010) out of the 400 million and growing base, there is a malaise.

Yet, the malaise in society and in many larger companies has its roots well before the internet took off.  September 11 and Global Warming antedate the internet, not to mention the suffocating political correctness, the widespread deterioration in education, the very high number of divorces, the too-frequent lethal shooting sprees…

If Internet is man-made and in many respects merely an extension of the ‘real’ world, it also offers some wonderful and unique devices and opportunities that seem completely missing in daily life: opportunities to meet like-minded people, put long lost friends back in touch, create a worldwide second-hand store, diffuse the power of the mass media, circumvent totalitarian regimes, accelerate communications and support in times of natural crisis…

I’d be interested in your perspectives.  Please do comment on your point of view on what is clearly becoming a big deal in the minds of mass media, politicians and concerned citizens around the world.

7 Comments, RSS

  1. Thanks Tony for your comment although I don't really see what you mean about the differences between internet native and immigrant?

    Anyway, a most interesting writeup on the topic of private/privacy/public! I picked up a quote that I found particularly relevant:

    "whilst privacy is about the change of control, private is what you have elected or selected not to make public and a company should not be able to elect to change this default or set it open so you have to close it."

  2. Athie

    Technology is great. Everybody agrees with that statement. One of technology babies – great invention – is internet. And everybody even I, will agree with “Internet is great” too. In fact, Internet had revolutionized the world and people lifestyle. With Internet everything looks possible: create a worldwide second-hand store, diffuse the power of the mass media, circumvent totalitarian regimes, find friends from the past, etc. It became leisure to surf on the net. Globally, most people are amused to have their own pages at Facebook and share real time comments and photos. Everybody is happy to have Internet and when you don’t have it, people reacts like you were Robinson Crusoe.
    Maybe I’m being too dramatic but something about technology scares me. I do not think that the malaise of the society come from “conservatives” that are trying to fight against generation Y. I think the malaise come from the fact that new technology and Internet are the end of privacy. Privacy may be an extinct word in the near future. Even though you have a private profile, people can find ways to trace you. Your future employer look to your Facebook homepage to see if you are going to be a good employee, like if photos from your vacations and parties with friends could tell. How can someone judge your employability by looking to how do you spend your leisure time?
    Moreover, if you have a mobile phone, everybody who has the technology to do it, can know the exactly place where you are if your mobile is on your pocket. Was George Orwell right about Big Brother?
    Imagine that you are having an affair. Private detective companies will not have to track you on streets to see if it is true. A Private detective just have to launch an internet research and (your location, the office or a hotel address, will instantly appear on his computer screen) the local where you are standing or better lying will appear on his computer screen. Okay, maybe it is a bad example because in that case you are doing something that is consider wrong by the society. Even though I think you can get my point. I think that in a new future this picture will actually exist.
    Still, I have Internet, I have a Facebook page and I don’t have yet a Smartphone mobile but I know it won’t last long and I would like ICT programs in universities to be more concerned on protecting privacy and not only developing innovation devices.
    In fact, nowadays, if you don’t live in 1984, you live on Robinson Crusoe Island.

  3. @Athie: First, I will disagree with your first statement: I don't think ALL technology is great. And I certainly don't believe that everything on the internet is great…

    That said, the issue of privacy is a very real one and, particularly when people are being "forced" onto the Internet, there is a real sense of invasion.

    As for having an affair, that is a perfectly French way of approaching the topic (not that affairs are limited to France, of course). Nonetheless, it does make life a lot harder to lead double lives; yes, I agree.

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