Facebook is now under scrutiny for it’s lax privacy adjustments on their website. Australia has reprimanded Google for it’s street views’ invasion of privacy. Privacy commissioners around the world are up in arms chasing after new and emerging privacy risks for individuals, companies and governments. Even scientists are constantly attacked by hackers seeking to discredit or undermine their research.
Here’s my somewhat different take, related to my earlier posts on this matter.
First, privacy invasions are treated as an individual problem. While there are certainly social implications, the onus and risks are emphasized as individual. Check your settings, maintain vigilance, report compromises, etc. Businesses and government agencies maintain entire departments committed to maintaining and enhancing security, updating systems to take advantage of latest developments in technologies and software, employing investigators and auditors to ensure safe operation of systems, and even adopting policies and communications to hide security breaches from the public, competitors or regulatory agencies when they do occur.
Indeed, the deep pockets employed by corporations and governments fuels much of the pull of technology; compelling the individual user to maintain pace with new developments, upgrading skills, software and hardware at accelerating rates. Certainly there are enormous environment (and social) implications of these actions, but might we be going at this from the wrong angle?
Setting aside the environmental implications of these activities for the moment, perhaps we need to consider the social consequences of privacy – both maintaining and eliminating privacy.
A large part of ICTs specifically aim to make information available to anyone anywhere. How can we do this if so much of it is shielded under the heading of private?
That’s like a corporation hiding behind the veil of proprietary information. That’s just plain silly. Corporate information is accessible to it’s competitors through various mechanisms, and competitors have the resources to access it. Consumers can’t and even if they had it, consumers couldn’t do anything damaging with it. I know this is a very general statement, and it’s implied to be such. Keep reading.
The problem is, damage only occurs when there’s a profit motive. Corporate or personal information can be sold or otherwise employed to gain an economic advantage. What if that economic advantage didn’t exist? Would people be concerned about their private or corporate or government information constituting tiny flickers of data in enormous pools of information?
Conversely, those tiny flickers would all add up to tremendously powerful insights, sort of like comparing a bunch of charts and tables scattered around a room or on different computer programs as compared to a GIS map. If we don’t have general access to that information, we can’t generate the applications, software and technologies to use it for social and ecological benefits. Sure we also can’t use it for harmful purposes either, but would those intentions even exist without the pre-existing (profit) incentives? You remember, the emphasis on the individual, artificially created destructive competition, and any number of other controversial values our global social structure is predicated upon?
But without access to that information, we also can’t create the self-evolving living organic structure ICTs can – and many argue should – support.
Do we need a re-definition of privacy, and a transformation of our concepts of privacy – the uses to which we put information? At present, much information is used to grow the economy and protect the individual from the parasitic entities generated by economic growth. Perhaps it’s the objective and process to achieve a new objective that needs clarity, instead of new tools to protect some amorphous definition of privacy.
We’re trying to devise a stronger anchor to protect us from the turbulent global eddies of information. Instead, we need a good paddle and life jacket, and the wisdom to know when to portage to enjoy the journey.