Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Subjective Nature of Privacy

"It's ironic to try to post something "secret" on Facebook, because everyone knows about it."            - Anonymous 

I think that Eric Schmidt's statement regarding private behaviors is one that can't be applied to all situations, as was pointed out in the "bathroom" example given to us by our professor.  However, I do think that his statement can be applied to certain situations that regard immoral, unsavory, or illegal behavior; such as using the Internet for looking at pornographic material, gambling and drug addictions, or cheating on a spouse.  All of these scenarios represent behaviors that most people would probably agree as being matters that those who commit them would wish to keep secret from others.  In this respect, I feel Schmidt's comment is accurate, if you don't want people to know what you are doing, you probably shouldn't be doing them. 

So therein lies the question: when do secret matters become private ones? and should private matters be kept secret? I believe that these questions can be better illustrated by an example. Take the last People Magazine that you perused through or even glanced at while grocery shopping.  How many front page stories were about the marital infidelities of random celebrities? Or informed us of which celebrity just went to rehab for the 13th time? Most of us would agree that these stories are regarding clearly private matters, but they certainly aren't being kept secret. I believe that this represents that there is, in fact, a difference between secret and private because sometimes, private matters can be kept secret and other times they are front page news.

The advent of the Internet has altered the existing societal ideals of privacy and secrecy, however. The ease and speed with which the web has enabled us to gather and post information on almost every topic imaginable, including ourselves, has resulted in many scholarly discussions (and disagreements) about where to draw the line in privacy issues. Dana Boyd wrote in her speech Privacy and Publicity, that "Fundamentally, privacy is about having control over how information flows."  On many Internet sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, even Blogger.com those who have control over the flow of information are those that subscribe to their Facebook accounts and post and tweet daily.  Who then should be able to step in and say what should be private and what should be public information? Mark Zuckerberg and his Default privacy settings, the FCC or the millions of subscribers worldwide? In the "real world" privacy matters are upheld by our court systems and laws, but online there is no "court" aside that of our peers.

John Perry Barlow describes the Internet as a "civilization of the mind."  This ultimately implies the subjective nature of its content.  In this respect I believe that people should be allowed to chose for themselves what should be private and/or public without being automatically "opted-in" to someone else's prescribed ideals.  Let the people choose and live with the consequences of their choices.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely agree with your post. "Let the people choose and live with the consequences of their choices." This statement couldn't be farther from the truth. No one is forcing us to use the Internet, and it is the users responsibility to determine what to share.

    However, I sometimes find it difficult to find privacy settings for websites. For sharing, there are all kinds of "quick" links and buttons. Why aren't the same principles applied to privacy? I believe that privacy and sharing should be promoted equally.