Sometimes I think I worry too much about privacy. Maybe I should learn to let go. Notions of what is private and what is public are changing, and maybe I’m stuck in the pre-internet way of thinking.
But I don’t know. I can’t decide. The idea of privacy seems really important to me and I think I need it to feel safe. But maybe I’m only thinking that because I’m being stupid. I don’t know. I can’t decide.
It still seems like a new phenomenon, the era of self exposure (and there’s probably a better term for it than that, but I can’t think of one). I remember seeing a television program years ago, before the internet arrived – the first of the American chat shows that was shown in Australia, I think: Donahue. People on the show were talking about themselves and their relationships as though talking to their closest friends – except, they were on television, in public, across the world. There seemed to be no reason for them to expose themselves so openly, so voluntarily, and I couldn’t believe they were doing it. It was fascinating and horrifying at the same time.
It’s not fascinating and horrifying any more, of course, because now self-exposure is everywhere, all over the internet, on every service where people can publish something.
But I still haven’t gotten used to it. I see people revealing their entire lives online and feel scared for them. Names, photos, addresses, family, workplaces – they put it all out there, maybe not thinking about what “out there” really means. “Out there” is the entire internet world: all the people you know and like and respect, and all the ones you’d be terrified to meet in a dark alley, along with their bots and scrapers or whatever it is they use to turn your personal life story into fodder or to use your personal information against you.
What I’m dreading is the arrival of facial recognition software. I’m guessing that before long it’ll be possible to identify people by simply photographing them with a phone app. And the people like me who have been careful to never attach their name to their photo online will find that it makes no difference: some idiot somewhere will have tagged them in a photo in a gesture of friendliness, and we private types will be just as findable as everybody else.
That’s coming. And maybe I should be preparing for it somehow – getting used to the idea that there’s nowhere to hide. And why do I want to hide, anyway? Wouldn’t it be better to be open? Maybe the safest people are the ones who can live in a spotlight.
I don’t think so. And I don’t think I could live that way. I like being private. I like being hidden away. And if I thought it was possible that anybody anywhere could know everything I think or care about, I’d never say another word. I only feel safe talking online if my real name and other details aren’t associated with it. But maybe one day the option of being unnamed and unknown will disappear – software will take it away – and there’s nothing I can do about that.
As an example of what can be done with phone apps already, take a look at this:
John Brownlee, This creepy app isn’t just stalking women without their knowledge, it’s a wake-up call about Facebook privacy, Cult of Mac, 30 March 2012
The app is probably just automating what anybody could do on their own: checking Foursquare locations and Facebook profiles (public ones). But it’s the ease and speed with which it does this that is scary: the app owner can find out who is in a certain location and then check personal information about them immediately. It’s the facial-recognition thing happening already, just without the facial-recognition.
So, I’m thinking about privacy. Or, at some time I will need to think about privacy (this post has taken so damn long to write and edit, I’ve run out of enthusiasm). The world is changing. There’s nothing I can do about it. So, should I keep up and change too, or fall back to staying safe in my own little world of one, or something else? This is what I need to decide.