The changing definition of privacy

One of the biggest news stories of 2013 has been the Edward Snowden revelations. What I think is most interesting about this story is the lack of reaction from the world’s population.

No riots, no sit downs, no #occupyNSA! An online outcry, a few petitions and your standard 15-20 people gatherings summed up the non-media reaction. And yes, NSA is now getting a review – basically a slap on the wrist.

In someways this was inevitable. I am actually surprised that it took NSA about 15 years after the Internet became mainstream to monitor all Internet traffic. But on the flip side most people have generally expected companies and governments to monitor their activity online.

Usually if I am physically signing agreements I tend to read them, get a second opinion, be thorough and negotiate before I put ink to paper. In contrast, the number of times I accept terms and conditions online without reading should have resulted in some jail time for me by now. Or at least, my email address and data has probably been sold 150 times.

Before GMail when spam filters were not that good, without thinking much, I created one email address specifically for signing up with websites. I kept my email id for personal correspondence separate. Inadvertently my definition of privacy had already changed in my early years of using the Internet.

Of course, today the monitoring and tracking is at a whole new level. However, I think people see it as a trade-off.

I get to connect with people so I am happy to share my details. I want to browse fast so you can know what I search for. I need to get to a location so you can know how and when I get there.

Being aware that you need to let go of your information for an easier life, at least for the larger population is now acceptable. I suspect people, especially the ones born after 1990 who have never seen life without the Internet, don’t see an alternative.

So what does this mean for privacy? I’d say the new outlook seems to have put the onus on businesses and government to play their part. While the recent revelations don’t help, I believe people expect organisations to use the information, however to not mis-use it. There is an expectation that you will not be mis-represented. And that a user’s digital footprint will reflect what the user wants the world to see.

Also it is not about whether you want your information out there – it is now about how much. Everyone’s definition of how much of their life needs to be private is now their own hand-drawn line. As a result what you loose ends up being a result of what you are ok to loose to begin with.

This changes the rules and I think the privacy landscape will continue to change. The question is at what point do people stop caring completely?