Throwing Stones at Glass Houses, or Privacy vs Publicy

Normally I am all business on this blog, but let’s take a moment to think about a few tech issues on a personal level. I think Google Glass is cool tech – I love cool tech – but if I see someone wearing Google Glass glasses after they come out, I’m infinitely less likely to want to be anywhere near them for any type of interaction. As the glasses get better and harder to detect, I’m likely to learn people have them by experience then avoid them. I’m wondering if I’m the only one?

You see, in spite of my public job, I don’t assume that every moment, thought or deed (my own or others’) needs to be public.  I am not a fan of being photographed or having video taken without being asked first, or having photos put up I don’t get a chance to look at first, and if you have ever tagged me in a non-work related photo – well, you already know how I feel about that. I value privacy and the dwindling ability to choose how much the internet at large gets to see of my (actual) life.  Just because you *can* take a picture of someone in a public place doesn’t mean you *should*.

People ask me why Facebook is my least favorite social network. Setting aside the network’s blatant disregard for a consistent user experience, the manipulation of the user base while on site and the downright Machiavellian terms of service: the total disregard for privacy on the network, and the inconsiderate behavior it encourages in people, really make me cringe. I feel we must do our best to resist a world where we have spy glasses, drone planes, a culture of eavesdropping on communications and an “always on” mentality.

Let’s look at it from the simple perspective of crime, if you don’t like the privacy angle. As a woman, I am cautious to only pre-disclose events I plan to attend if I know my home will have someone in it and that the event will keep me surrounded by people. I don’t connect with many people on sites like Foursquare – I use them to keep me motivated for things like the gym, but never check into my home, and more often than not I keep my check ins private unless I am – you guessed it – surrounded by people and know my home is protected while I’m gone.  I value time with my friends where I can let my hair down a bit and have a little fun, and I eschew anyone who tries to make those vital moments of being out of the public eye public by sticking a camera phone or flip cam in my face.

It’s because that behavior is rude and invasive, true, but  it’s also because it’s not wise. I can’t control the privacy settings of other people – I can only control my own. A large percentage of information bleed online comes from the missed settings and carelessness of other people that you know. You can lock your own privacy settings down tight, but your inebriated friend at the reception might have his set to public, or a relative might not be as tech savvy, and enough unwarranted photos might reveal you or your kids’ favorite hangout, even if you try to keep it private, which could put you and people you know at risk.

I get a lot of flack from photographer friends about my desire to be asked before photographed. They err on the side of “if you’re in a public place, your consent is automatic”. I agree that at times that’s true. I can’t really get annoyed if I’m speaking at a conference and my picture or a video is taken, and I don’t – it’s all about context.  There is a difference between being in a “public place” and “publicy” and a need in this hyperconnected age to be vigilant and respectful about not just your own privacy but the privacy of those you come in contact with.

Mass adoption of new technology always causes a cultural shift. As one example: the dissolution of public transportation and rise of the car brought us the suburbs and contributed to urban decay in addition to making it possible to do cool things like go visit relatives in Ireland or go on vacation quickly and easily (the car and the plane brought us the world, but the trade offs for easy access to the planet have been pretty significant).

I wonder if we are prepared for – or even cognizant of – the cultural shift away from privacy that is in process right now and what it will cost us if not handled delicately and reigned in to allow for private spaces inside and out. Study after study  shows that privacy, the ability to reinvent oneself or move past a prior mistake in life (Think for a moment of Facebook’s recent indication that they will open up to ages 13 and under and what that will mean to their ability to grow from bad decisions, learn and reinvent when it’s time to move into their adult life. Pretty serious impact, isn’t it? ), the chance for quiet solitude and reflection to grow creativity and deepen thought processes, the ability to move safely from one place to another and more are vital to our well being as individuals and as a society.

*Note: the issue of trading our online behavioral and shopping data for access to sites is a whole ‘nother issue/can of worms. Post on that coming soon.

What are your thoughts on privacy vs publicy and this huge cultural shift that is going on under our noses?

  • Well said Leslie.  You know me well enough to know I’m a bit of an extrovert, but even I try to maintain some privacy in my online life.  Google Glass makes me think of those spy cameras we’ve seen in the movies for years.  If people are constantly streaming audio and video everywhere they go, it does make me wonder what little privacy we’ll have left.