Privacy is precious and we should protect it

Facebook has been the catalyst for considerable discussion and discourse on the topic of privacy. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has even suggested that the age of privacy is dead. Quite understandably these latter suggestions brought about a whole lot of scorn and questioning as to his motivation. Despite this the bigger question is arguably whether there ever has been a “golden age” of privacy. Whilst cleaning out my mother-in-law’s house I was astounded by some of the newspaper clippings and what they revealed about my wife’s family. Details such as age and school were routinely reported on with a couple of photos even carrying a street address.

As this article from the Guardian suggests the waters are quite muddy in regard to this and other matters surrounding the issue of privacy. Using commercial enterprises for a mix of both public and private focussed activities must carry with it tensions. Needing to provide “free” services whilst still making a profit means other options for monetizing the operation are used. The desire to build a wide “friendship group” without telling the whole world, the need to monitor society in order to protect the individual, the lack of knowledge about how we are being monitored are all feeding these tensions.

Everyone knows they ought to examine the small print of any contract they sign. Few actually do. We are especially cavalier about giving our consent for things we haven’t read in order to access services online. Nearly always there is a box somewhere on the website seeking confirmation that users have understood the terms and conditions. Usually, when we tick that box to say “yes”, we are lying.

Does it matter? The answer depends on whether or not we care what happens to data about ourselves, our habits, our purchases, our preferences. The hidden price of most ostensibly “free” web services is some surrender of privacy. It is time the terms of that trade were more openly negotiated.

On the score of online reputation, the good folk at CommonCraft have an interesting take on things as usual in Protecting Reputations Online in Plain English.

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