So what’s the big deal about privacy anyway? Everyone is doing it.
This weeks readings, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) on Privacy http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/privacy/ (2013) and Chapter 2 Naked in the Sunlight http://www.bitsbook.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/chapter2.pdf of ‘Blown to Bits’ by Abelson et al. (2008) address the notion of privacy and it’s history and meaning with respect to developing technology. Both sources point to the importance of privacy as necessary for human dignity and crucial to personal intimacy and meaningful interpersonal relationships. In addition, a helpful Timeline focusing on Privacy in the USA from 1600-2008 is included http://issuu.com/sciam/docs/extended-privacy-timeline/2?e=1052646/2599441.
The timeline starts with the Puritan colonies of 1600 dominated by pious religious life, when living alone was strictly forbidden. Important steps regarding the notion of privacy included the advent of the Postal service in the 1770’s with Congress enforcing postal confidentiality, followed by the Bill of Rights guaranteeing freedom of speech and opposition to unreasonable search and seizure. Following the US Civil War and abolition of slavery, the 14th Amendment of 1868 guaranteed the right to privacy for all US citizens irrespective of race or color.
The SEP and Abelson readings point to two critical writings on privacy following the 14th Amendment including Warren and Brandies ‘The Right to Privacy” in 1890 articulating privacy as the right to be alone (SEP p.3) and a study by Alan Weston “Privacy and Freedom” in 1967 arguing that privacy is more than just an entitlement to be alone but a right that allows society to function (Abelson p.63).
Technologies of mass communication, such as newspapers in the 19th century to telephones and electronic surveillance in the 20th century, motivated the development of necessary privacy protection under the law (SEP p.13). Recent emerging technical advances such as, sophisticated data gathering, the world wide web , GPS, webcams, smart phones, tablets and even biometric retinal scans, used by government and business, has raised new privacy concerns regarding use and sharing of information (Abelson, p.36-42).
Abelson argues that rapidly changing technology over the last 3 decades has outpaced legal efforts to protect privacy. Consumers desire for the benefits of new technologies, however, including convenience, savings of money and time and most recently social connectedness, has come with the free surrender of privacy by users, rationalized by the belief that everyone is doing it so it must be ok (Abelson, p.58).
Addressing privacy in social media specifically, Danah Boyd in a 2010 speech http://www.danah.org/papers/talks/2010/SXSW2010.html entitled “Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity” argues that privacy is highly valued by social media users and plays a crucial role in the evolution of the media itself (p.2). Pointing to the failures of Google Buzz and catastrophic changes to privacy settings by FaceBook in 2009, Boyd warns that the perception that users disregard of privacy somehow gives information technologists permission to share data, betrays the trust users have in social media vehicles (p.8) She concludes that emerging new tools and forms of social media will continue to challenge and complicate the fine line between what is private and public (p.12).
One final note of interest regarding privacy was a link suggested by Professor Proctor in response to a Tweet that I posted last week about my daughter’s belief that teens are abandoning Twitter for Instagram. The link titled ‘Here’s how a real teenager uses, and doesn’t use, social media’ authored by Matthew Ingress, https://gigaom.com/2015/01/07/heres-how-a-real-teenager-uses-and-doesnt-use-social-media, referred to a recent post by a 19 year old how he and his friends use popular social media platforms. Instagram was preferred because they perceived it as more private when compared to either FaceBook or Twitter.
Question: Do you agree with Danah Boyd’s contention that the issue of privacy will influence the evolution of social media going forward? If so, why and how?