So what if everyone, everywhere, knows everything about you? What’s the big deal? You’re still you – only now you’re you for everyone else too…
Richard Woods writes about privacy in the digital age. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of Facebook, has declared (in effect) that privacy is dead: “People have gotten really comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.” He described such lack of privacy as a “social norm”. This comes at the same time as Google is trying to defend its reputation for guarding people’s privacy by pulling away from the tentacles of Chinese hackers.
Yes, it’s an age thing, but there are interviews in the article with people in their teens and 20s who are still wary about what they put online and keen to preserve the distinction between what is private and what is public.
I learnt about two new concepts here. ‘Blippy’ is a website that allows everyone to know when, where and how you have spent every penny in your pocket.
Let’s pick a person pretty much at random: Dan Braden of Austin, Texas. I do not know Braden at all, but I can tell you that in the past few days he has spent $373.46 on Louis Vuitton goods, $162.47 at a local grocery store, $20 at a fitness centre and $3.23 on iTunes. He is also a regular at Starbucks, went to a Maudie’s Tex-Mex restaurant last week and spent $717.10 on new tyres.
Is someone spying on Braden or hacking into his bank account? Nope. Instead, he has signed up to Blippy, a new website that puts online every purchase users make with a designated credit card. He is happy to publicise where he goes and what he buys. No privacy worries for him.
If the truth about who you are as a person is revealed above all by what you search for and what you buy (and I think there is much truth in this), then Blippy must be the way forward for those who want to reveal all.
The second concept I came across was that of the ‘spider programme’:
Even if you do try to restrict your profile, the data that remains public can still give away a lot about you. Facebook, for example, has no privacy restrictions on your name, photograph, list of friends and certain other material.
By analysing such data, “spider” programs can draw up social graphs that reveal your sexuality, political beliefs and other characteristics. According to Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge, it can be done even if you list as few as eight friends.
So even if you don’t put all your digital pieces together into a tidy personal profile — it’s consoling/terrifying (take your pick) to know that someone else is kindly doing it for you.