Thursday, July 10, 2014

A reasonable expectations of privacy

Many years ago, I heard a song by Sting called, "Epilogue (Nothing 'Bout Me)". The song is a very interesting exploration of privacy in the modern world at the time of the release of "Ten Summoners Tales". In the song, Sting notes that "you can run my name through your computer, still know nothin' 'bout me". That got me thinking about practical limits of privacy encroachment and expectations - the inspiration for this article.

We think of privacy as a right, but at the same time, we do many things that are public, for all to see. I can't recite all of the actions that I take that are public. A few that come to mind are whenever I make a purchase at any store, that is a public action. Everyone around me can see what I bought. Purchasing something at a brick and mortar store is a very public way of expression desire and satisfaction.

Anything we do on the internet is a public activity in most cases, unless the connection is encrypted, then there is some privacy from the prying eyes of anyone who is not logged into the same site. A notable exception is making a purchase online. The connection goes from public to encrypted and private when you click "buy". What we do in social networking is, in a sense, public, depending on how we wish to share what we want to express. Often what we say is permanent and very difficult to remove.

On the flipside there is private action. What can we expect to be able to do privately? Anything that is not done online and in the home is private. I have every expectation of privacy here, at home. When I go out and drive about, then I am less private, but what I do in the car is private until someone looks in my windows.

Even much of what I do on the computer at home is private unless I'm browsing the web or posting something on social networking sites. I make a point to never post anything in social networking sites that I want to keep private. Once it's online, its nearly impossible to remove and any effort to do so will incur what is known as the Streisand Effect

When pictures of Barbara Streisand's home began to circulate on the internet and Streisand got wind of what was happening, she attempted to hide and/or take down posts of the picture. As publicity grew of her efforts, demand for the pictures grew and circulation of the pictures grew to the point where it became impossible to remove the pictures from the internet. Information just wants to be free, know what I mean?

I have no expectation of privacy at work. There are cameras everywhere. Everything I do on the screen is recorded. Every phone call is recorded. Despite all the surveillance, I don't consider this a violation of privacy because I'm paid to work with clients of the company and if something goes wrong, I want to be able to point to the records and be able to say, "that wasn't me", or, "I didn't do that". In the workplace, I think of this more like a service. It keeps everyone accountable.

There is another perspective to consider at work. My employer is paying me to work and to keep customers satisfied. He needs to be able to measure my productivity and all of this surveillance can help to measure my work so he can balance his costs against his income. I now have a reliable and disinterested third party, a set of machines, recording everything that I do so that what I produce can be measured and compensation can be justified.

Even if I do have a right to privacy at work, I have to consider that I'm using a company computer, office furniture, climate controls, telephone and facilities. I don't worry about privacy at work. I have a smart phone that can send and receive emails, make phone calls and provides access to social networking. If I need to do something private, I don't have to do it on company time and hardware.

If you're looking for privacy, there are plenty of very reasonably priced remote residences without internet connections peppered around the nether regions of our country for you to choose from. But if you want to be a part of society, culture and the river of creativity that is social media, you might have to let go of some privacy to enjoy a place in modern humanity.
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