The Value of Privacy?


The other day I was reading about the uproar the class action law suit against Facebook was creating. Commentators and activists alike were deriding the fact that Facebook had unscrupulously ‘eavesdropped’ on private messages to determine what kind of advertisements and products could be pushed onto our personal Facebook home pages. There has been a long held suspicion and whisper campaign that internet giant Google is also not above board on such personal data mining and use without permission. The fear of personal data theft and use and the consequences thereof seems to be morphing into Privacy versus Technology crusade for many.

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As I muse over all this, I wonder what really is this outrage over privacy all about? Is it not that we voluntarily share information about ourselves a thousand times more than what we did a mere decade back? Is it not that we share such information to make our own lives easier?

I can recall a prescient prediction of more than a decade ago which said that ‘our planet will acquire an electronic skin’. We seem to have reached some kind of a tipping point where communication between person to person, person to inanimate object and even between inanimate objects is becoming increasingly commonplace using smart devices. Such communications and information flows get supported as disparate technologies converge and in between gatekeepers vanish. Technology giant CISCO dubs this as “internet of everything”.

So what really is occurring? On one end of the spectrum is the promise of Web 2.0, cloud computing and allied architecture allowing off-machine data storage and ‘on demand’ application access. Somewhere in the middle are the rapid strides of broadband, wireless internet and cutting edge data analytics. The other end of the spectrum remains all about mobile devices and smart phones. Each of them holding computing power more than what was available for the Apollo missions to the moon!

As the planet’s ‘electronic skin’ becomes more pervasive in this manner, it supports us to make things simple. As it begins to ‘understand’ our needs, preferences and propensity for repetitive tasks. Be it about the kind of television channel or social media we watch. Or the kind of cuisine and wine we prefer on weekends. Or monitor chronic ailments to cut our health costs. Or track and complete payments of our bills. Or our office / home address and what route to take to reach there most optimally. Or our offices and homes to predict and act on our energy, water and other service needs. Or to………….. The possibilities are endless and ever increasing.

wired-world

How could this ‘electronic skin’ support us in all the above ways if it was not privy to our private information and preferences? How could we hanker for more of our needs to be anticipated by the environment if we did not allow more complete profiles of ourselves to be maintained within the same environment?

I muse about this apparent contradiction.

Could it be that as we seek increased support and comforts from technology in terms of automating our life’s mundane tasks, we choose to ignore the fact that this requires constant exchange of our privacy data between networks and devices? Could it be that what we assumed as our ‘privacy perimeter’ in the past may no longer be relevant in an increasingly wired world? As Steve Rambam, the internet privacy specialist says, “Privacy is dead- get over it”. So how do we ‘get over it’ and re-visualise our privacy parameter?

I sense the concern that most of us carry about privacy. Through the annals of history, we have come to see privacy as an undeniable human right, inseparable from the concept of liberty. When we perceive an assault on our privacy, we apprehend a loss of freedom through being judged, criticized and corrected. Further, with an ‘electronic skin’ all around, we now fear that electronic footprints we leave behind might be used to implicate or defraud us. Is the core of our privacy concern about being compromised by something we have hidden or need to hide? Or is it about losing our individuality as all we say or do gets recorded in that all around ‘electronic skin’?

So how could we reassess the value of privacy in our lives today? I believe that first we need to shift ourselves away from the perspective that it is all about liberty versus control. This need not be if we retain conviction about what we say and do and not get dissuaded by the thought of getting judged or criticized. Secondly, we need to become comfortable with our personal lives being increasingly visible to others. As we feel less need to ‘hide’ aspects of ourselves. As we embrace values of integrity and authenticity into our lives. As we align more and more with the path yielding the greatest good for our organisations, communities and society at large.

In learning…………… Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: ‘The Value of Privacy’- A blog post by Bruce Schneier, May 2006

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70 thoughts on “The Value of Privacy?

  1. An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a colleague
    who had been conducting a little homework on this.
    And he in fact bought me dinner simply because I found
    it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU
    for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this issue here on your site.

    • HI Marvis,

      You are welcome. If this old post of mine got you a dinner, I remain delighted. Do visit again and ask your ‘dinner offering’ friend to do so to. One never knows. He might offer me dinner next time. LOL!

      Shakti

  2. There is no privacy anymore. Yet again, even without the internet you still had a social security card you had drivers license, you paid with credit cards, so the DMV, banks have your information.
    Now the only thing that has changed is that since we live in an increasingly world of information through the internet, you just have out there a little more people being able to acces your personal information.

    So it all depends on how much you decide to put out there, and also how others try to use your information. But it´s not something new. And not something that worries me too much, I don´t have anything to hide, have a couple of dollars in the bank account so if they want to rob me please go ahead.

    • Hi Charly,

      You say there is no privacy anymore and you are not alone in having this realisation.Unfortunately, a large number of folks are conditioned otherwise and are unable to accept this situation. So they rave, rant and declare themselves as victims of a larger circumstance which they cannot control.

      I need to acknowledge your response since you are having the perspective to be able to respond appropriately and thereby making peace with the situation.How many of us see this challenge to our closely held beliefs about Privacy as an opportunity to grow as more empowered and authentic beings?

      Loved the thought behind your comment Charly.

      Shakti

      • Appreciate again your comment Shakti.

        I guess we´ll have to agree to disagree on this one. But that´s the good part, different points of views. Would be boring if we all though the same.

        Looking forward to reading you soon.

  3. “Privacy is dead, get over it!” Love that! The act alone that we made a Facebook account or shall I say created a blog or surf the net thousands of times or more, we handed down part of our privacy willingly. There is a price to everything. Nothing is free in the material word. Free Facebook social media? No such thing. It’s creators has to get something from the priceless gift of “connections” it creates globally. So yes, I stopped whining about it long time ago. I guess you can say, “I got over it.” Other option? End Facebook account and back to Yahoo mail. Very informative post with bits of irresistible humor.

    • That is a great comment. Could it be that when we are opening that Facebook account or creating a blog, our motivation is to conform with what others are doing? Could it be that motivation to conform over-rides any doubts we may be holding about our privacy getting compromised?

      Clearly you had that awareness and “got over it” but I suppose others may not have been able to do so.

      Thank you for visiting, I appreciate.

      Shakti

  4. I’m shaking my head because I don’t know where to start; your posts always unleash such an avalanche of thoughts in my mind. Thank you for that.

    Whether in cyberspace or face-to-face, the person who has less to hide will live a less stressful life. Secrets – whether they be state, personal, financial, or whatever – are a source of anxiety. The fewer of them we have, the less time and energy needs to be devoted to protecting them. Do I post my passwords online? Of course not. Do I share some of my deepest feelings? Often.

    Though one of my basic needs is to understand others and to be understood by them, I am also a very private person. While I can be very open, I tailor what I give others to my trust level in them. This is often difficult to gauge in a personal setting, and nearly impossible in that mirage of anonymity that is social media. In an odd way, that dilemma is healthy for me, because it forces me to take a hard look at the line between the inner me and the outer me.

    My concern is with authenticity, I guess. As much as possible, I want to be myself, as I am. If someone respects me, I want to earn that respect as myself, not as some artificial construct. Avatars and bogus profiles don’t contribute to that endeavor, and neither does paranoia about who knows how much about what.

    Do I have secrets? Of course I do, and they are strictly offline. But in order to live a more happy, healthy life, I strive to keep those to a minimum.

  5. While I have concern for the ‘young people’ and social media… I do realize that when we start giving out any information… anywhere on the web there are those who ‘see’…. but I don’t obsess over it or I wouldn’t even be on it…. It’s a good observation made in your post…Diane

  6. When I set and reinforce my privacy settings, I’m well aware there’s some administrative entity that can open the gate. “Forgotten your password? Let me help you…”

    I am not likely saying anything new or different from your other commenters, but this is my concern: A few years ago, someone on TED said that we cannot predict where technology is taking us. When people predicted what the Internet would be, the concept fell very short of the actual outcome. This speaker stated, and I agree, that it’s pointless to even try…it’ll morph and unfold in manners we could not dream up – even the best of sci-fi writers.

    Therein lies my concern. I know we cannot even conceive the extent to which it is already being “used”. Snowden didn’t lay down his life over data only being used for good or “for our protection”.

    How will our data be used in the future? Well, if I won’t say in person what I say in writing, I don’t write it.

    Now, it’s time to check my privacy settings. They somehow magically grow holes…

    • Hi Amy,

      Good to see you here.

      You mention about your concern about the inability to predict how and where technology would take us going forward. But if we cannot predict, we can neither plan or prepare for it, is it not? And if that be so, what responsibility could we take in the situation?

      Thank you for the comment, I appreciate.

      Shakti

  7. Hello!

    You have put some nice thoughts here. I think we, being rational, can be our best judge. We share too much information, but I cannot share everything that concerns me. I choose to share when I am comfortable doing so. And, it seems, I’m comfortable most of the time.

    • Hi Ramu,

      That is a great perspective to hold, “I choose to share when I am comfortable doing so”.So long as we remain in alignment with our actions, there can be no further concern.

      Thank you for visiting and reading the post.

      Shakti

  8. I do wonder and have concerns about the extent my personal details are shared between sites when I shop or bank. I only share what I absolutely have to. But when it comes to sharing online on other sites like my blog, it’s important to be authentic.
    Very interesting topic!

    • Dear Carolyn,

      That is a great approach. When it comes to aspects relating to our Finances, we need to share only the bare minimum after ascertaining the integrity and genuineness of the site. When it comes to our creative thoughts and passions, we share freely from an authentic space.

      Thank you for this lovely comment, Carolyn.

      Shakti

  9. Cyber world is racing fast…who cares whether you are comfortable about sharing and how much you want to share? The choice rests with us! I have seen people reveal all…from their most precious moments to the most dreadful ones.

    Everything around us has a positive and a negative aspect…while we can’t change all and make it good, we can’t live in the fear, which is the creation of our own mind.

    This is a very thought provoking article, Shakti…thanks for impelling me towards it. I appreciate both.

    • Hi Balroop,

      What you say is true wisdom.Indeed,quite a bit of our fears are our own creations. So, how could we visit this fears to see what impacts us most? When we share and , as you say, at times reveal all, is this due to some deep seated fear or emotion that we carry?

      The way we get to answer these questions could provide us clarity of how we might mange aspects of Privacy in our lives.

      I appreciate your comment Balroop.

      Shakti

    • Hi Russel,

      You may be right but should we then not accept this as the reality of our world?

      To me the issue is about a bigger aspect than merely choosing to participate in Facebook or not. It is about a much more fundamental contradiction relating to the capacity of technology supporting us more and more going forward.

      Thanks for the comment, I appreciate.

      Shakti

  10. Very interesting and thought-provoking post. (Sorry, I didn’t read all the comments. There are many.)

    Yes I’ve certainly heard the stance “why don’t you want to give out your residential address publicly – after all you’re honest, you’ve nothing to hide”. Unfortunately for honest and gullible people, everyone has something to hide. It may not be anything dishonest, but it is something that you need to protect – such as, e.g, your beautiful child who might otherwise be stalked by perverts.

    Unfortunately there’s such a lot of crime out there that the argument “nothing to hide” doesn’t hold any water. If you have something, you may want to hide it, even if you own it legally and came by it by completely honest means. Revealing all one’s private data publicly is like leaving your front door unlocked for every bum on the street to help themselves because you feel that you are honest. Sadly, they are not and you get ripped.

    Even worse, the huge corporations are far from honest. So not only are you leaving your house unlocked for petty theft, but for the big gangsters with removal vans who will take everything.

    The answer to the privacy issue online is only to reveal online what you feel is not private. The Internet is one huge public broadcasting system and whatever you put on there is instantly in the gossip vine. Paparazzi and movie stars – now we all can have a taste of that.

    • Hi Gipsika,

      At the outset, do accept my apologies for not replying to you earlier.

      What I really tried to explore in my post is the trade -off that increasingly exists about our personal data, likes and inclinations being tracked and stored in the electronic skin that envelops us and the benefits of technology that we seek. What I mused on is the need to be conscious of this aspect and accept the changing privacy parameter that it implies.

      Even in today’s wired world, we do retain the choice about what and how much to share. And it is really not about being honest and thereby gullible.

      Thank you for a very thoughtful comment, I truly appreciate.

      Shakti

    • But all that you yearn for might continue to remain as such. What then?

      To me what would be more interesting to observe is how Mankind reorients its own perspective and changes its behaviour in a situation when Privacy is indeed dead. What would you think?

      Thanks for the comment, I appreciate.

      Shakti

  11. Shakti … Technology is good when it brings folks together in a positive way. As mentioned by one of your commenters, the problem is when this communication is abused. To me, all information that’s posted on electronic media is public. If you are concerned who might see it … then, maybe, you shouldn’t post or share it.

    • Hello Judy,

      So what you are saying is that the responsibility and awareness of the consequences of our actions vests with us. I totally agree. Technology is what you make of it.But then the question remains, ” What makes folks embrace and curse technology at the same time?”

      Thank you for the comment.

      Shakti

  12. Just a couple thoughts – RE class action suits, they are a crock, just a way for some lawyer to get rich while the rest of the people get next to nothing. RE internet privacy – It’s pretty naive to think anything posted on a social media site has any sort of privacy. If you don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your boss or your grandmother to see than you probably have nothing to worry about.

    • You may be right. But then have you wondered why this compulsion that folks have to post? What is that intrinsic need that compels them to do so? And if there be such a need, what kind of trade-off we are willing to accept?

      Thank you for commenting.

      Shakti

  13. The possibilities of personal privacy and invasion haven’t really changed all that much, particularly for those of us alive now; it’s the perception and understanding of them that have changed the most drastically. Every generation thinks its world is going down the drain at a newly rapid rate, but truthfully, change is the only constant. We just have to keep on learning how to deal with the changes intelligently enough to navigate our lives safely and happily. New technologies and their new uses are one of our bigger challenges today. We’ll manage somehow. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    • Dear Kathyrn,

      What a lovely and balanced perspective! Indeed, Change is the only constant and we need to deal with it. History has shown that in every generation it is those who have accepted change and seen emerging possibilities are those who wrote the success stories.

      Thank you once again for taking the time to comment here; I truly appreciate.

      Shakti

  14. I think the issue here is that a message is intended for an individual and not public consumption. What I say on my FB page may be very different from what I write to a friend in a one on one communication. If FB wants emails to be public content or to be eavesdropped on by FB employees, it’s their platform and they are welcome to do so, but they should make it clear to users that they have no level of privacy anywhere on Facebook.

    • Hi Kourtney,

      I agree. The terms of engagement needs to be more transparent and this can come about through more trust. What can FB do to achieve that? I believe this is a critical issue for Facebook ( and others of the genre) to address if it needs to succeed and sustain in an evolving world.

      Thanks for the lovely comment.

      Shakti

  15. Shakti, I’ve come to many of the same conclusions, given my visibility on Facebook and WordPress. I’m over it, when it comes to what I share publicly. However, where that tipping point weighs over into the danger zone, for me, is someone listening in on phone calls and private messages and emails. Such a fine, fine line. And I’m grateful to Edward Snowden for exposing and bringing to the fore such valid concerns.
    Thanks for a great post.

    • Dear Bela,

      What I have realised is that many of us remain unclear about what the ‘tipping point’ of privacy should be for us. This would remain different for each one of us but we get are influenced by what we read and hear from others and move with the ‘tide of opinion’ as it were. But at the same time we hanker for more and more technology support.We fail to see the linkage as also the inverse correlation between these two aspects in our life. I can also see that for most of us, the privacy tipping point has shifted over time; we are willing to accept intrusions today which we could never have dreamt of a couple of decades back. As with many other things, is it not?

      Thank you for taking the time to comment here. As always I appreciate…… and Namaste!

      Shakti

      • Changed over time, no kidding! I used to be SO private about my creative writing, especially my poetry. Once I decided to go public; to talk about things that I never spoke about while they were happening (in childhood, for example), was a huge step for me. Once I got over that, I was good going public.

        And I agree, many are shocked at what they perceive as privacy breaches, but don’t they realize that once they offer something on a public forum such as Facebook, anyone can read it? Especially if they don’t tighten their own account security down from the beginning (and ongoingly)? If you want privacy, best to stay offline and write letters the old fashioned way.

        Now the US government tapping into our personal emails and phone calls – that’s a different matter altogether. I am considerably more cautious as to what I say since Snowden’s revelations. If it ‘can’ happen, you bet it ‘does’ happen, somewhere in the world … And that part, my friend, is truly a cause for concern.

        Aloha and Namaste, Shakti,
        Bela

      • I could not agree with you more Bela. For most of us, the ‘privacy parameters’ and breaches thereof are conditioning that we have learnt from others in the society. So, as we avoid thinking of it critically regarding relevance to ourselves , we join in with the Joneses to cry out against perceived breaches.

        With regard to tapping by authorities, I see the way forward as more engagement by citizen groups for greater transparency and accountability. Somewhere, somehow the trust quotient needs to be raised.

        Thanks again for the lovely musing Bela!

        Shakti

    • Hi Kang,

      You may be right. But ‘use’ or ‘be abused’ does depend to a large extent on the choices we make, is it not? How many of stop to think whether what we are sharing is really necessary? What responsibility are we willing to take in this regard?

      Thank you for commenting here.

      Shakti

      • Yes I see your point. I agree to some extent. At the same time, the line must be drawn hard as it is. I would like to be at least notified with ones that are more intrusive like reading my private messages which were not intended to be shared. And I guess, be told in advance. Not learn of it by chance afterwards. Thank you for this post! -Juwon.

      • Like tell me in writing when I join. That is at least how it is done in Korea. Of course, not all meta data, but at least the ones a normal user might not instinctively think is being closely monitored. I can then be more mindful when I use the service. But I agree with the point in your question that it is a murky and difficult area. Doing nothing, for me at least, did not feel right. Slippery slope.

  16. Recently, the sales person at my local mobile phone shop shook his head in disbelief when I remarked I have no need for a “smart” phone because I’m smart enough for my needs. As in other aspects of life, I feel this comes down to consciousness: consciously choosing to trade in bits and pieces of my privacy in exchange for a modicum of ease and convenience. Just because I leave a trail of electronic markers doesn’t mean I have to make it easy to connect those dots.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Shakti! xoM

    • Dear Margarita,

      Very well said.Indeed it comes down to our consciousness, as you say. But to hold such consciousness is also about being responsible for our own thoughts and actions. Unfortunately, many of us find this stressful and rather remain in the comfort of moving with the crowd. We get lulled into the complacency of believing that what someone else says would hold true for us too.But this might not be true as our privacy parameters would be situation specific to us.

      I love your closing line when you say, “Just because I leave a trail of electronic markers doesn’t mean I have to make it easy to connect those dots.”

      Thank you for the visit and the comment. I truly appreciate.

      Shakti

  17. We must never become so complacent as to believe the motives behind gathering information are always beneficial, or that governments will always act in the interests of the people they represent. History has proved that to be wrong on far too many occasions.

    Westerners may be happy with their governments gathering personal details about their lives, but would they be so happy to discover the Russians, Chinese and Iranians do the same thing? One thing you can be sure of, if they don´t have the capacity now, they soon will have.

    • Hi Bryan,

      Great thought there. If, as you say, the motives behind gathering information is not beneficial then clearly these motives lack transparency. So the problem here is really not about the act of collecting information, rather the lack of transparency. Should we therefore not work towards securing such transparency of motives with the choice of providing information or not left to each one of us? I believe some progress has been made in this direction but surely more needs to be done. We also should not forget that it is yet early days of our existence within that omnipresent electronic skin.And both we and the skin are learning about each other……:)

      Thank you for your visit and the comment; I appreciate.

      Shakti

  18. Bravo! So well stated. I am conflicted over issues of how much information I’m comfortable with intentionally revealing and probably do wonder if there is a dangerous tipping point. It’s a challenge to me because of my ambivalence. I state I am concerned about my privacy yet boldly place personal photos and identifying markers all over a blog–as do millions of us. I enjoyed your perspective!

    • Thank you. Yes, it is this ambivalence that leads to the discomfort about what we might have shared.I suppose greater transparency of possible use of the information and more authenticity and integrity from our side would support. You speak of a ‘tipping point.’ As I have said in another comment, “…. the privacy tipping point has shifted over time; we are willing to accept intrusions today which we could never have dreamt of a couple of decades back. As with many other things, is it not?”

      I appreciate your visit and the thoughts.

      Shakti

  19. Lets face reality, we as human beings are great spies. The greatest offender is the government. I suppose we will self destruct first before we go back to basic similar to the extinction of dinosaurs.

    • That is indeed a frightening thought isn’t it? So, what could each one of us do to prevent the ‘self destruct’ of humanity?

      Interestingly, I too have a hypothesis which says that ‘ Intelligence is not a natural state of the Universe and thus would survive only for a limited time. This is also the reason why one intelligent species is unable to contact another…” Would you agree?

      Thanks for a very incisive comment.

      Shakti

  20. Boy you ask very good questions in this post. I remember when I was a kid, older folks talked about remembering when the phone became popular and how that invaded their private space…now someone could just get a hold of you at home!

    • Hi Diana,

      What you say is indeed the crux of the matter. The goal posts of our privacy parameters constantly shift with time; what we would have construed as our private space a couple of decades back is no longer so today. I suppose we need to consciously review the intrinsic purpose of our privacy parameter rather than get emotionally attached to what we are keeping within.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Shakti

  21. I still believe deep in my heart that when we make that final plunge into the new world all of this will become irrelevant. When one day, not too far off, we all begin mental telepathy with each other there will be no such thing privacy. Let us think of what is happening today as preparation for what lies ahead. As we raise our consciousness and become fully immersed in unconditional love, the evil intent bred into the taking of our privacy shall be eliminated. We must stop looking at everything that is happening purely from a 3D perspective and look deeper at it from a 5th or 6th dimensional perspective. We seem to forget WE will be changing along with everything else…My best to you my friend! Be well and keep the peace in your heart…VK

    • Wow VK ! That is indeed a profound comment.

      As we speak, technology does exist to allow ‘telepathy’ with implants within us. Our smart devices are connected to each other on a 24X7 basis is it not, sharing where we are, what we are up to and so on. What you term as ‘unconditional love’ is really about the aspects that flow out of that mindset. The aspects of Integrity and Authenticity in their true sense. I do not see these as Values to be acquired; rather a value-free state in which all that we perceive is from within this lens.

      Once again thank you for your presence here my friend, I so appreciate!

      Shakti

  22. You raise highly relevant issues and i like the way you have done it. You’ve not been overbearing, but have simply asked very real questions which get us thinking. Good post. Enjoyed it immensely. Thank you.

    • Hi Vishal,

      Thank you. I suppose it is never the technology that becomes evil, it is the thought and the way it is used.And as great philosophers have told us, ” Good and Evil are too sides of the same coin.” What could we do to ensure that when we flip that coin, it falls on the side of Good?

      Cheers

      Shakti

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