Every so often we are regaled with attention-grabbing headlines announcing the demise of the individual’s right to privacy or how Big Brother has a constant roving eye over us all, recording the minutiae of our very existence.
We grumble because we are fingerprinted at airports and we complain because our local High Street has more surveillance cameras than street furniture. We complain because our letterbox is stuffed daily with useless marketing flyers for products we are not interested in.
Gone are the days when we could go about our business without wondering if our every move is being filmed, monitored and ‘ogled’ by someone in authority. We usually blame this state of affairs on governments, officials with an unhealthy paranoia for security and the media.
I would argue, however, that we are as much to blame as the authorities are. The way we have embraced technology – from the use of email to blogging and social networking – has pushed us into a situation where, albeit unconsciously, we have given up a part of our right to privacy.
Data about us can be found everywhere. If you have a loyalty card with your local store, your details are running around in their systems; if you purchase items online, your details are there as well as a nice long list of your personal shopping preferences; if, like nearly half a billion others, you have social network profiles and post pictures and daily updates of what you’re doing, that data is available in a public forum; if you love tweeting, well thanks for keeping us informed that you’re going on holiday.
Our browsing activity is monitored through cookies on our PCs – what people do online in the privacy of our homes is trapped in a small file – but do most people care? No, they don’t. Today, we are so used to running around with tablets, smartphones full of personal data, photos, contacts, videos, emails, and so on, that we tend to give little thought to security or that we are carrying ‘our personal lives’ on a piece of hardware.
My point being that technology has ‘liberated’ us to such an extent that our lives are somewhat dictated by the technology that we use – and that means sharing information about ourselves; details which 20 years ago could only be found in a register gathering dust in some government office. And, unless you were kind of high-profile individual, even the information stored there was relatively limited.
20 years ago we wouldn’t give an album of photos to anyone except close family; today, we upload photos to the web and share them on Facebook. Ironic, isn’t it?
What is amazing is that we do so without batting an eyelid. We willingly provide our credit card details online; we happily use our loyalty cards; we share our non-working lives with friends and acquaintances on a daily basis through Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and so on. We almost automatically tick the box on user licence agreements without reading the small print.
In many ways, our lives have become more public than ever before. To partake of today’s technology, we have chosen to put aside privacy. Some of us are more careful than others; but not everyone understands the risks. And that is when privacy issues could become a real concern.