The Web’s Biggest Victim: Privacy

Privacy, like its close cousin modesty, is difficult to recover once lost.  That’s the thought I had after reading a recent post by Todd Defren at his terrific PR blog PRSquared.  Todd was discussing the Domino’s Pizza social media gaffe and, almost as an after thought, wrote:

“I like Shel Holtz’s idea: “wouldn’t it be cool if Domino’s installed webcams in every kitchen so customers could watch their food being prepared at their local restaurant?” With cheap webcams, I don’t see this as being financially impossible.”

I was surprised by the casualness that both Todd and Shel had toward the idea of private companies watching and monitoring their employees.  I don’t believe – by any stretch – that Todd or Shel are advocating totalitarianism.  It’s just easy to get caught up in technology and the amazing innovations that it brings – but at the same time overlook the importance of privacy.

Heres my Facebook status: Leave me alone & talk to the hand!

Here's my Facebook status: "Leave me alone & talk to the hand!"

In fact, I think many people, especially members of Generation Y, probably don’t even grasp the value of privacy.  So much of their personal lives have been shared publicly through MySpace, Facebook and text messaging (I read somewhere – can’t remember where – that the younger generation has been the most photographed in history – their every milestone meticulously recorded).

Privacy is a natural right.  As Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis noted in 1890, privacy is “the right to be left alone.”  There’s power in that simple concept, yet privacy has been under constant attack by the web and technology.

The nightmarish dystopia George Orwell created in “1984” included the total elimination of privacy by the government of Oceania.  The leader of Oceania is Big Brother and posters litter the landscape declaring: “Big Brother is Watching.”  And, the government was, through two-way television screens set up in every public and private place.

Most people today, I think, would balk at the idea of the government watching their every move.  Yet, we opt in for this constant surveillance by private enterprise all the time in the name of convenience.  That’s why we sign up for GPS applications with our iPhones, use GPS navigation in our cars and on our mobile devices and sign up for transponders to be placed in our cars to zip through toll booths.  We allow credit card companies to view our purchases.  We sign up for membership cards that allow retailers like Best Buy and Barnes & Noble to track our purchases.

And now we live in the age of cloud computing – where more and more people are storing photographs, videos, applications, and documents with online storage providers. Jason Kincaid at TechCrunch has an excellent post called “The Sorry State of Online Privacy” that outlines the bugs, mistakes and lax security protecting all of this personal and professional data in the cloud.

Facebook has changed the way we share information – intimacy has gone public.  We share family and vacation photograghs with business associates and acquaintences (do we really want to see our boss in a bathing suit?).  We update status on Twitter and Facebook sharing our locations, our private thoughts, and even our emotional state (One of the people I follow on Twitter actually writes updates like this: “I’m in a terrible, angry mood today.  People better stay away from me.”  And he’s in client service!).

There are growing consequences and a continued erosion of privacy by this movement online.  People have been fired from their jobs for blogging and micro-blogging. Relationships have been destroyed by revealing information on social networking sites.  Reputations have been damaged by bad jokes, insenstive responses and intimate photographs.  The internet can be unforgiving for even the most minor of gaffes.

I’ve written about different steps to take to ensure your privacy before, but the biggest lesson for online behavior may be this:

“You are being watched.”

What are your thoughts about privacy?  Is privacy simply a casaulity of the times? Do you do anything to ensure being as private as possible online?

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