Point At Issue: Why Privacy Is Now A Thing Of The Past

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We live in an age where visibility is necessary. “Pics or it didn’t happen” isn’t just something people say for nothing. Chronic over-sharers and #TMI are frequently used to describe people and conversations. There are more devices than ever, and more avenues and applications that help you maintain electronic records of either your best memories or even memories that you’d rather have repressed or forgotten. There’s hardly any place in our normal lives where there aren’t any cameras watching our every move. In the midst of all this, is there any space left for private moments? Is privacy a relic of the past?

With more technology, everyone might have had fears that they’re being watched. In June 2013, The Guardian published a story by Glenn Greenwald about the surveillance that the National Security Agency (NSA) conducted on American citizens. The report was based on the data leaked by Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the NSA, which had classified information about global surveillance programs conducted by the US security agencies. The documents revealed how phone records of normal citizens were being collected by the government, which put the privacies of normal citizens in jeopardy.

The revelations were supposed to blow the whistle on these surveillance activities in order to safeguard the individual liberties of people. Snowden was even seen in speaking in interviews about privacy and stating that he leaked the documents because he “didn’t want to live in a world where there is no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.” Whether the document leak helped change the nature of government surveillance is not known, but Snowden would not have expected privacy and private information to be mined by corporations for their businesses.

 Location-aware advertising is on the upswing, which means that every time you switch on your location services on your device, your every move is tracked. In 2017 alone, marketers spent $16 billion on location targeted-ads, which makes up about 40 percent of all mobile ad spending, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. To produce location-aware ads, companies require location-based data about their consumers, which means that if you have an electronic device that can provide location, you’re being targeted. You’re being tracked.

 A recent report published in The New York Times shows how location services are being exploited by location data companies. The companies gather information from users of their location services and sell them at a profit. The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal brought into focus how private data of users from Facebook was being mined by political consulting firms like Cambridge Analytica in order to influence results in elections. The scandal has resulted in the CEOs of other tech companies like Twitter and Google to be brought in front of the Congress to testify. The testimonies have involved lawmakers questioning tech companies about their practices, and to clarify that their products are not being utilized in order to influence, or implement surveillance over users in any manner.

 The reports mentioned above have brought under question the very idea of private data. Hardly anyone is without any sort of device these days, and if the time spent on devices are being utilized in order to influence how people lead their lives, then it is a big cause for concern. If this is the case when artificial intelligence has not been realized to its full capacity, is the day too far off when robots and machines will control us instead of us controlling them? What stops artificial intelligence systems from infringing individual freedoms as wellAmendment IV of the Bill of Rights states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The Bill of Rights was introduced in order to safeguard individual liberties. Cyber surveillance by the government or tech companies has gone against these beliefs and jeopardizes individual freedom.

 Privacy is important. How we lead our personal lives should be of concern to ourselves and no one else. If privacy doesn’t exist, we won’t have a say in how we think or feel. We’re all part of a society, a society made up of different individuals with differing opinions and faiths and private practices. If we do not safeguard privacy, we might be undermining the very fabric of civil society. Privacy as a concept encompasses all spheres of our life, online or offline.

 What can we do to safeguard privacy? Is it even in our hands? It can be, but measures need to be taken. We’ve lost our privacies as a result of our frivolous attitude towards our freedom, and it is up to us to be able to bring it back. We need to ask for more accountability from all our service providers, not just the internet kind. We need to keep a check on how we use the services and the technologies that are available at our disposal. Most of all, it is important for us to see how much of ourselves we make available for all to see. In short, we need to keep our private lives private.