Contemporary social networks break all the rules of the traditional privacy.

List of friends, news feeds, face tags, status updates – all of these tools implemented on the websites, such as Facebook, Twitter and others, make active users of the social networks sites public by default, hence bringing their privacy to the minimal level. Despite many concerns expressed by various individuals and groups regarding the privacy in the contemporary digital world, is the contemporary era of social networks and Internet really limiting our privacy compared to the “good old times”?

Image Courtesy of Flick User http://www.flickr.com/photos/cambodia4kidsorg/

Image Courtesy of Flickr User cambodia4kidsorg

According to Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research Lab, this is not necessarily the case. In the interview given to the BBC Future, Mr. Horvitz noted that the concerns raised regarding the privacy of the modern online world are due to the Internet and various websites being a technological innovation. Mr. Horvitz draws parallels between the modern digital world and the introduction of camera. He claims that the invention of photography over a hundred years ago raised similar privacy concerns, mentioning that “the idea of being captured in a picture (maybe without your permission) was considered a very exotic and scary possibility”, very much like the large availability of data about individuals on the internet seems dangerous now. Mr. Horvitz also talks about the invention of telephone and the concerns, which were connected to it. As he says, some of the contemporary literature, which, unfortunately, he does not specify, raised the question of what does it mean if a person who barely knows you or does not know you at all, can give you a call right into your living room.

Despite the fact that Mr. Horvitz’s argument may be seen as generally valid, since, indeed, the introduction of new controversial technologies always raises questions and concerns, it is hard to agree with him fully on the given matter. Although camera, telephone and the Internet in general all raised questions concerning the privacy of the population, it necessary to understand the difference between the scales, on which each of these media operate. While photography and telephone could and still can provide a very unspecific and/or limited information about an individual, the Internet, and, especially, the social networks websites are the combination of the informational resources presented by telephone and photography, making it possible for anyone to find out individual’s phone number, identify them by the picture and so on, as long as the information is not limited by the privacy settings. In addition, the modern digital world has many additional features, such as GPS-location, which not only allow to identify and gather various information about us, but also to physically locate us with a high accuracy.

Clearly, the stance that one takes regarding the modern privacy issues depends on the individual. While for one person the large availability of the information about them on the Internet might not matter a thing, for someone else it might of the vital importance, making them almost paranoid about the information they publicize online. These facts, as well as the arguments presented above, show us the complexity of the privacy issue, proving that it will take a long time before we, as a society, find a clear and definite answer regarding the privacy standards in our world.

For the summary of Eric Horvitz’s interview, as well as the full video, please visit http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140220-can-giving-up-privacy-help-us

A featured image taken by Flickr user g4ll4is


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