December 12, 2009

What is Privacy Anyway?

In this brave new world where everyone lives online, the idea of privacy has changed drastically. Facebook is one of the principle social networking sites online today. As such, it plays a large role in the brave new world. Recently, Facebook made some changes affecting their "privacy" settings. For the most part, the changes affect the end user positively. Facebook allows more control over Publicly Available Information (PAI). The user gains more specific control over who sees which pieces of their PAI (Yes. I punned on the blog). The other new control is the Hyper Control. This control makes it so that the user can control which friends can view certain information. This includes status updates, notes, and photos. I think this will increase passive-aggressive Facebook behaviour and will result in more people talking behind your Facebook (Oh, another one!). Ultimately, the changes Facebook has made regarding your privacy will make it harder for you to see what others post about you. For example, if you don't want certain friends to see photos of you doing bong hits in Tijuana, you can control that. If your friends don't want you to see photos of you doing bong hits in Tijuana, they can control that. Yikes!

Although I would agree that privacy, irregardless of whose privacy it is, has increased overall on Facebook, the question begs to be asked: If you don't want to share the information with some people on Facebook and not others, what the heck are you doing putting the information online in the first place? Furthermore, why are there pictures that you don't want people to see? Maybe you shouldn't have let your friend take a picture of you doing bong hits in Tijuana. It's like the ubiquitous celebrity sex tape. If you don't want the world to see it, why would you digitize the event (Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Carrie Prejean, etc)? Furthermore, if you digitize it, is it really necessary to put it on Facebook? "Privacy" is so compromised by Facebook, other networking sites, and the Internet that I wonder if it even exists in the brave new world.

Consider this blog. I am sharing information in a public format. I assume that the only people that will read it are people I already know, but it can be searched for in Google. I would never for a moment consider this a private blog; therefore, I do not write anything here that I wouldn't share with a stranger. Think about it: a stranger. When we were children, we were told to never talk to strangers, but on the Internet, we do it every day. It's kind of weird.

I would wager to guess that there exists at least one photo of every person on the Internet. I would wager an even larger bet that most photos out there were taken and posted without the person in the image knowing about it. Really, unless you're tagged in the photo, you have no idea that it's been put up by someone else. I remember when the Internet was a newer concept and most people were leery of any personal information such as first and last names, phone numbers, and addresses. Now, most people click and upload mobile photos without so much as a hesitant thought. We're also willing to enter credit information when making online purchases and social security numbers when filling out job applications. It's just a fact of life that a lot of our personal information resides on the Internet. The Internet is a public entity and a lot of people have access to it: Does privacy even exist?

If anything has come out of these new "privacy" settings, I have learned one thing: If I don't want it on the Internet, I probably shouldn't do it in a place where anyone with a camera can see me. Because cameras are everywhere and in every phone the public sphere has increased while the private one is disappearing. How paranoid do I sound?

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