My late friend Doug was extremely possessive of his privacy, so much so that his siblings knew very little about him. One of the last times we discussed the subject of privacy, Doug mentioned that he still did not have any social media accounts–none, zip, zero. He reasoned that if you put yourself out on social media, all sorts of evil things can spontaneously happen to you.
He stressed that even when a person uses a fake name, that it is still possible for the government or scammers to figure out your true identity. Identity theft was only one of Doug’s worries. He was more concerned about preserving his isolation from society. That said, he worried about someone making a video on a mobile phone and he might accidentally appear somewhere in the background. Then his image, no matter how apparently insignificant, would be on the Internet for everyone to see.
People as a whole are becoming ever more uncomfortable with the speed in which privacy issues are changing their lives. It is becoming ever more difficult to leave one’s home without being monitored by surveillance cameras. Personally, I simply assume that I am being monitored at all times but do not worry about it. I do admit that I do not like the feeling of being watched all the time.
I understand why some surveillance is necessary. Crime investigation and highway traffic monitoring come to mind. Why people are buying camera equipped doorbells is understandable. The ever increasing encroachment of snoopers on the Web is logically understandable yet is inauspicious as a whole.
Most of us have noticed that a casual Google search for something means that advertisements for that thing or service will instantly appear on subsequent, unrelated sites. Last week, I searched for a local auto supply store’s availability of engine air filters for my old Toyota. Now I’m being inundated with advertising for auto parts stores, automotive filters, and special Toyota Camry sales offers in the sidebars of my Facebook page.
Although, I have a basic understanding about algorithms and marketing schemes, this level of commercial invasiveness is unnerving. This sort of nonsense continues despite the ad blockers and privacy walls I have installed onto my devices. I cannot watch a YouTube video without finding a non-skippable, targeted advertisment showing up.
One of the worst aspects of this massive privacy invasion is that while consumer privacy has practically vanished, there is the unchecked ability of corporations and government bureaucracies to collect our most sensitive information without due process or our own oversight. There’s apparently nothing meaningful that I can do to prevent advertising agencies from accessing my personal purchasing and shopping history. It seems now that every auto parts store in the world now knows that I once needed to buy an air filter for my car so I’m a good prospect for their business.
Long ago, in pre-Internet times, I understood that being in the public eye, put me at risk for blackmail threats and invasions of privacy. I proactively decided that if I was going to remain in the media industry, that certain aspects of my life would be an open book. Nearly anything that was potential blackmail fuel was something I would not keep secret from public knowledge. In other words, my personal beliefs about my own personal privacy were the polar opposite of my friend Doug’s beliefs regarding his privacy. This made for some enjoyable conversations regarding privacy in general.
In my opinion, I believe that privacy is precious and that anyone who wishes to live a private or reclusive life should enjoy the degree of privacy she or he desires. Privacy is not a mere option; but is an absolute prerequisite for every person on Earth. We should be able to live our lives as we choose and see fit without corporations and everyone else commenting and knowing sensitive information. If a person independently chooses less privacy, so be it. If a person independently chooses to be tight-lipped, so be it.
With the advent of nearly all of our business being conducted on line, privacy should be of utmost concern to all. Why should I need to feel concern that just paying my natural gas utility bill might cause other utility companies to bombard my email inbox with clever advertising? Relying upon corporate conglomerates to protect our privacy is akin to asking a peeping tom to install your window curtains.
In my own creative endeavors, I always ask acquaintances and friends whether or not I can use their real names. Some of them are eager to grant permission, others desire anonymity–for them, I use aliases. In all instances, I respect the boundaries they have defined. When doing street photography, I generally do not photograph people. If there is an artistic purpose for including a person, I ask explicit permission to do so. If they want a digital copy of their image, I email it to them. However, in the interest of not having to deal with privacy issues in general, I never photograph strangers’ faces nor anything about them that may reveal their identities.
All things considered, we are all entitled to privacy rights and the right to construct public boundaries. It has become each individual’s responsibility to protect our own constitutionally protected civil liberties and our rights to privacy. Governments and corporations are not going to do that task for us because it is not in their interests to do so.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 19th century Russian journalist and writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky. “Sarcasm: the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.”
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It’s much worse than you think. Even private interests now have ways to listen to you speak, breathe and poop, and the internet now has instructions for ways to see through walls using only internet routers. This generation finds the concept of privacy so ludicrous that my daughter laughs when the word is mentioned.
This is entirely unhealthy. I hate to imagine scenarios of the future.
Entirely unhealthy are two very good words to use.
In the US I worry about private snooping much more than government snooping. The convenience of having a “smart” house where everything can be controlled from the internet doesn’t sound smart to me. Having a corporately controlled personal assistant like Alexa that listens to everything that is said is even worse. Here the use of personal information by the government will always have limits as long as the government is not controlled by one entity or party because the same personal information could be used against that entity or party when it is not in control. In countries with totalitarian regimes whose sole purpose is to remain in power forever, there is an overwhelming interest in the government gathering and using as much personal information as possible on every resident and even people outside the country and using that information in anyway it deems necessary to achieve the primary goal.
Alexa and the variants are the bane of quality living. If I need lights to turn on and off at specific times, I use old-fashioned timers. Why do I need to have my range connected to the Web? I have no clue.