Piercing columnist provides unique, vivid insight on privacy and peoples concerns….. not

November 24, 2014 |

From time to time one comes across a piercing analysis which makes what seems shrouded in confusion suddenly clear, what is difficult appear easy and what is complicated, simple.  Unfortunately the Age’s article  Why no one cares about privacy is none of those things.  I don’t underestimate the pressure on columnists to come up with a vaguely interesting idea and then turn that into a vaguely readable 1200 words. Hard work.  But that is no excuse for taking a tired old thesis, “privacy is over, nobody cares and get used to it” (or a similar variation of words) and then claim a scientific basis to support said thesis by spending “..a lot of time in people’s kitchens and living rooms..”  and then distill this intrusion into food preparation areas and entertainment zones to reach the earth shattering conclusion that people don’t mount rostrums and discuss privacy theories.  And by referencing comments they have about bullying and Facebook and bosses the issue is therefore subsumed into the vague beyond.  Which of course is nothing like what the actual rather than columnist test research finds.  There privacy counts, particularly when there is a breach of it.  Articles like these are twee but add nothing to much of anything.  Not even good writing.

 The article provides:

If the sheer frequency of headlines is anything go by, you could be forgiven for believing that Australians everywhere are up in arms over their privacy online. That they’re fuming about the collection and storage of their metadata. That they’re losing sleep over the government’s ability to check on where they go online, what they say online, to whom they say it and when and where they say it.

While I’d like to be able to report that Australians are passionate about their privacy – that they’re debating the fundamental shifts underway and the implications for freedom and democracy – the reality is, it’s not happening.

I spend a lot of time in people’s kitchens and living rooms listening to them talk about their lives and what’s on their minds and I can tell you that the issue doesn’t occupy much, if any, of their headspace.

For most, awareness of the issue is non-existent or at best, hazy, crowded out by all of the other things that people tell us keep them awake at night. Like how they’re going to get through Christmas when both the electricity and water bills are due and they’ve promised all three of the kids an iPad mini. Or if their 17-year-old is telling them the truth when they swear they don’t take pills when they go to music festivals.

That’s not to say that people aren’t talking about technology – they are. A lot. They’re talking about Facebook (“I’m over it! I don’t need to see what you had for breakfast or 15 pictures of your baby“). They’re talking about their teens having no social skills (“When Matt’s friend comes over they text each other from opposite sides of the kitchen“). They talk about bullying (“Poor Sarah was in tears again because of what those girls are saying about her on Facebook“). They talk about being too attached to their devices (“I look at my phone constantly all day, I panic when I can’t see it. I think I’m addicted).

They even talk about privacy but it’s not the same capital P privacy we’re talking about here. When everyday Australians talk about their concerns around privacy on the internet, they’re talking about their boss or their grandmother seeing pictures of them out drunk on a Friday night on Facebook – and if these pictures will come back to haunt them in a job interview in five years’ time. Or if it’s parents doing the talking, they talk about how vulnerable they believe their kids to be now because they tell everyone everything about themselves on social media, unwittingly exposing themselves (and their whereabouts) to trolls and paedophiles.

They talk about almost everything to do with technology. Except, by and large, about capital P privacy issues, such as metadata, the NSA, Edward Snowden and the government’s ability to monitor what they do online. Maybe, if asked explicitly what they think about all of this, they’d have something to say about it. Or maybe not. But it’s certainly not top of mind.

We can speculate as to why. While you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would select “disagree” on a survey when asked how they feel about the statement “privacy is a basic and universal human right”, most people’s understanding and expectation of what privacy looks like in practice is far more nuanced. Add to this a strong sense of trust in the government and its intentions – that all this is about catching bad guys and has nothing to do with them – and it’s not hard to see why many view this issue as totally irrelevant to their lives.

One of the rare discussions I’ve heard about this sums up the range of the views out there (among the few that actually have one).

“Doesn’t it make you feel uncomfortable that the government has the ability to spy on you?” asked Stu*, a particularly passionate late 20-something during a discussion with a group of his mates at his house in South Western Sydney. “That they have these abilities to monitor you? Like, they can look at all of your search history and trap you.”

His friend Nathan jumped in first: “But they caught two paedophiles last month through their email accounts.”

Stu leaned in, eyes focused intently on his buddy: “Yeah, but the government has access to all of our accounts and search history,” he said. “And they’re not just looking for paedophiles.”

“Who cares if they can search my email,” replied Nathan, not realising that he was speaking for most of Australia. “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

Stu shook his head. “But it’s the principle, mate,” he said, perfectly capturing the sentiment of the few who do care.


One Response to “Piercing columnist provides unique, vivid insight on privacy and peoples concerns….. not”

  1. Piercing columnist provides unique, vivid insight on privacy and peoples concerns….. not | Australian Law Blogs

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