Yes, Virginia, Privacy Really Does Matter

Paula Musich
Paula Musich

Summary Bullets:

  • Is social media rewiring our psyches to expect that we have zero opportunity for private reflection and growth?
  • It’s time to educate creators and consumers of social media about the dark side of living our entire lives online.

Edward Snowden’s Christmas message got me thinking about our evolving view of privacy.  The message, aired in a short video on Channel 4 in the UK as the ‘alternative Christmas message’ for 2013, warns of the dangers of mass surveillance occurring across the globe and makes the case that privacy matters.  You wouldn’t know that by the online behavior of millions of social media users.  I honestly don’t get why people feel compelled to share their worst moments and lesser traits with the whole world.  Such details are increasingly being exploited by a range of organizations – not only Facebook, Google and the NSA, but also TV broadcasters for entertainment purposes.  I recently watched in shock and horror as Ellen DeGeneres broadcast highly unflattering photos taken from the public Facebook pages of some of her audience members and then called those audience members out to discuss the photos.  I wondered how many other audience members and viewers felt as uncomfortable as I did in viewing those photos, or question why anyone would post such unflattering photos in the first place.  As Nicholas Carr so well described in The Shallows:  What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, the Internet is rewiring how we think.  Are Facebook, Google and the ‘Internet of Things’ rewiring our psyches to accept a world in which we have no private moments of reflection?  Or, will we collectively come to a moment when we realize that privacy really does matter?  And, will that realization cause us to change our habits (not to mention our laws)?

Security professionals work hard to keep sensitive company information private in order to protect it from misuse and to ensure the continued profitability or successful operation of the organizations for which we work.  When breaches such as the massive Target data theft occur, it’s clear that we need to work even harder.   Perhaps we should also work harder to educate ourselves as creators and consumers of social media technologies of the dangers and dark side of living our day-to-day lives online.  At the IT Security Analyst & CISO Forum earlier this year, a CISO described with great alarm how the Rutgers University social media information lab put children’s lives at risk by combining live Instagram posts with Google Street View on its main web page and enabling a search that shows girls in school uniforms combined with their street address.

What do you think?

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