Article on technology and privacy

August 28, 2012 |

In today’s Punch, There’s no hiding the horror of a world without privacy, there is a reasonable article on privacy and intrusive technology.

It provides:

Young kids are growing up in an environment where it is normal to disclose their every thought, location and photo to friends and strangers alike on social media. Integrated technology allows businesses and governments to compile a dossier of information about your finances and personal life with every transaction.

Even now, with so much of your habits unwittingly disclosed by what you buy and look at online, you’ve shared more with your ISP than your own family probably knows. Without doubt, there is more information about you floating in the ether at the moment than you realise. Numberplate tracking, loyalty programs, website caching, online purchases and banking data, medical info, download histories… even your current location thanks to the GPS on the smartphone in your pocket.

And, as a bonus, the information is there for the taking by anyone with the skills and curiosity to bother hacking it.

In the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report, iris scanners allowed authorities to keep close tabs on everyone’s movements. What was futuristic a decade ago is being brought closer to life with constant technological advancement.

Besides iris recognition and other biometric ID systems, well-intentioned science has given us the first mind “reading” technology that can decode the brain activity caused by heard words, and reconstruct what we’re thinking into images.

Then take Google’s latest foray. It is developing glasses that can record and upload everything the wearer is seeing. Project Glass is essentially a wearable computer. Fascinating on many levels, but it would also turn everyone who comes into view into unwitting, instant “extras” in that annoying gadget-loving person’s life.

So, whatever you happen to be doing – slurping down hot coffee, surreptitiously picking your nose, arguing with a salesperson, enjoying a romantic moment at the park, stuffing up a three-point turn, maybe even using a public urinal – you would likely be powerless to stop the passing wearer uploading the images immediately into the cloud, where your moments in time can remain forever. Facial recognition technology would mean users wouldn’t need your name to identify you either.

The wall between our public and private lives is already crumbling thanks to social media that lets you share your every action and waking thought with an army of near-strangers, should you choose. People who have never been inside your house or introduced to your family are privy to your musings, changes in your relationship status, they’ve seen your holiday snaps, have an idea of your political views, your favourite haunts.

It’s so normalised that kids shows like Play School have segments about sharing on Twitter.

Your Facebook account might be free, but as the marketing mantra says, if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product. Your page provides advertisers with the ultimate focus group to market products directly to you. Some people may admit they don’t mind when their info is used to tailor online advertisements to their interests. Saves them a bit of trouble. Which is thin-edge-of-the-wedge thinking.

As Prince Harry was again reminded last week, privacy is a fragile and easily compromised commodity. And, as we’ve seen from incidents like Vodafone’s security lapse last year, you can’t be sure the personal information you do provide will remain secure.

In a world where an increasing amount of our lives is lived and transacted online, we will conceivably get to a point where little of our personal lives remains hidden from advertisers, employers, creditors, governments. How would you feel about that?

As uncomfortable as that notion might be for most people, if you don’t see any adverse impact from that, will you care enough to do anything about it?

And if this is the world in which tomorrow’s generation is raised, where public and private is so easily melded, how much will they care? In future, will we become so blase that fewer voices will be raised against threats to privacy? It’s something to chew on.

Like frogs in a pot of water, we might not notice when it starts boiling.

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