The Illusion of Privacy in Web 2.0 – by “Javi S”

As the scope of the Web has continued to increase, so to must our understanding and expectations of privacy in this new era. The last few years has seen an explosion of private information being made public, with millions of people unaware of the scope at which this happening and if they are, blissfully ignorant to the serious consequences this system can have. We are in an era now where even older generations are expected to have a Facebook, a LinkedIn profile, or something of that nature; for younger generations it’s become a staple for social interaction. Sure, there are many positives to this new wave of interaction: for one thing, it connects cultures and societies oceans apart and helps foster understanding and familiarity with people you would otherwise never encounter. The spread of information and networking is a major development in suppressed or emerging countries, as it has in some cases helped them spring free of their captive situations. Running alongside the social media websites are other “social” services; social blogs, social news sites, and social forums, all of which are now linked through plug-ins and information sharing. New technology and services have allowed users to share everything they do throughout the day, ranging from where they eat in the mornings, what news stories they find interesting,  to what jokes and videos they find funny. While all this may at face value seem harmless and just a way to better interact with your friends online(most of whom you already know in person, making this barrier easier to cross) users often forget to think about what the true purpose of all this information might be.

 

My fellow friends, followers, subscribers, co-workers, stumblers and redditers can ALL know now!

What the information is really about

One of the surprising parts about social media when it was first introduced was the fact that it provided an intuitive, useful service seemingly for free. Thousands of pictures, videos, and files can be uploaded and shared for no cost and unlikely relationships can be formed without the use of subscription based dating services, to name a few examples. As noted here , however, TANSTAAFL(there “aint” no such thing as a free lunch). The price to pay for using these interactive services, is you yourself. The thousands of interactions you make through the Web 2.0—websites accessed and “liked”, places visited and rated, etc—can be brought together into a single digital persona which can be targeted by advertisers or sold to governments, corporations, etc.

How did I miss that caption?

 

“I always feel like someone is watching me”

The development and connectivity of mobile devices has added a new angle to the debate on how to manage privacy. Our iPods, iPads, iPhone, Blackberrys, Droids, Galaxy’s, etc.,  are all now designed to be functional with the dozens of social services and have even been the framework for new services of their own. While the benefit of this is it allows you to effectively choose the best local services or meet your friends, for example, it opens another door: someone can know exactly where you are and when, opening a Pandora’s box of consequences. The ability to rapidly share information is also effecting public behavior. In the past, the scope of an embarrassing or damaging event could be minimized to a local sphere. Nowadays, anything you do has the possibility of being recorded or tracked and possibly shared with thousands of people

Benefits of Web 2.0

For all the lack of traditional privacy which has become the norm in this new era, and the increasingly little you can do about it, there are a lot of positives to take from Web 2.0. In addition to the increased availability of information and people, the rapid dissemination of information by any actors has lead to increases in governmental transparency, particularly by agents of the government such as the police. One of the first major instances of viral media effecting the public was the Rodney King case, where a video of police brutality on a young African-American male sparked public investigations, lawsuits, and riots. The Rodney King video was captured by a private citizen but publicized by mainstream news, reflecting the fact that the Web at this time was in no position to make a video viral in the same way it can today. Now, nearly everybody carries a device which can record photos or video and many have the ability to instantly upload them to the internet and share with other people. On one hand, it allows people to catalogue every day happenings and funny occurrences, as well as capture embarrassing moments. On the other hand, it has also lead to several, well publicized cases involving police brutality or other forms of misconduct being caught on tape, as well as legal backlash by the establishment claiming these forms of public surveillance are illegal. Recently, Twitter was used as a cornerstone to organize protests in a host of repressive countries such as Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and many others. In regions like Syria, where media blackouts prevent information for entering or leaving the country, the Web presents the only way to let the world know what is happening.

Philosoraptor, here to answer your daily ponderings.

What Web 3.0 will have in store for users as far as connectivity, interactivity, and its double edged sword privacy, no one can know now. What Web 2.0 presents, however, is the opportunity to reach a middle ground between maintaining an infrastructure to share and store information and a breach of privacy. The ability for users to share personal information should come with the expectation that such information is private and that any use of it has some measure of consent, heralding some of the rules put forth in 1974. It is important for politicians to revisit these privacy rules and update them to a new and evolving landscape, or they risk alienating constituents and losing the battle for privacy all together. At the same time, these laws should not infringe on the free nature of the internet which has made it so unique and successful. The ability for the internet to be used as a public watchdog against corruption, brutality, and repression is one of its key functions and essential to prosperity moving forward.

 Don’t forget!

 

 

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