Is ‘Privacy’ Obsolete?

Privacy is not something that is high on my online ‘concern’ list.  Let’s be honest, I’m lucky to live a fairly ordinary life: I’m not a celebrity, nor do I do much that is of interest to a wider audience.  Therefore, who is truly paying attention to little old me??

But in considering whether it is possible to control what is public vs private, I came across a pretty confronting quote from Computer Science Professor, Margo Seltzer: “Privacy as we knew it in the past is no longer feasible. How we conventionally think of privacy is dead.”  She continues on to add that we are being tracked all the time through technology: credit cards, debit card, the web, roads, highway transceivers, email, social networks, etc.  This amounts to a pretty substantial digital trail.

Image by Graham Rowan
Image by Graham Rowan

Daniel Newman from Forbes magazine adds on that “our privacy died when we grew obsessed with free”. I had never thought about it like this.  People like starting a blog for free, or joining facebook for free.  We want free content, free social media and to be connected with others for free.  So what is the trade off?  Our privacy.

Whether we like it or not, we need to accept that just about everything that we do has the potential to be public.  Whether it is images of us drinking at a party or pictures of us in bikinis on holidays.  And these photos do have the potential of making it back onto the screens of our students.

This goes to question: If something happens in your private life, which doesn’t affect or influence your role as a professional and the way you carry out your professional responsibilities, does it really matter?

Unfortunately, yes, as numerous celebrities and politicians have shown in the media in the past.  There’s the example of Michael Phelps smoking marijuana. One minute he is an American hero and the next a ‘criminal’.  Or Prince Harry , a few years back, who was caught on camera partying naked in Las Vegas.  After all of his positive charity work, this image led the public to question the rich and famous lives that royals lead.  Finally, a recent example from Canada, where a Canadian politician running for parliament in the recent election made an off-side Auschewitz death camp joke on Facebook five years ago, which then resurfaced and came back to mar her election campaign.

Bringing this idea back to little old me, since we want to curate a positive digital footprint, we must be aware of our actions everyday and the potential for future consequences.  It’s not like I’m posting slander comments on Facebook, or making scandalous videos, but I do try to have a positive presence both online and in ‘real’ life.

I feel that I am the one who is in charge of my online content.  While I can’t always control what is posted about me or who has access to it, I CAN control my actions everyday and it IS important to live a life that I wouldn’t mind others seeing online.

Privacy is pretty much non-existent in today’s world, so why not simply live a life that you would be proud to share online?


3 Replies to “Is ‘Privacy’ Obsolete?”

  1. Mavis I really enjoyed reading your post. Your opening line made me laugh, as I too wondered who would be interested in little old me. However what scared me was when I typed my name into the browser and looked under images and there was a photo of me, which I was very surprised to see. I totally agree with you that the way we behave off line should mimic the way we behave online. We are the only ones that can control our actions. This ted talk I listened to, link to demonstrated just how much information is being collected on us without us realizing, and how big companies use it to target us. Definitely an eye opener for me – so I feel my privacy no longer only belongs to me!

  2. Hi Mavis… sometimes I think that I go too far with my online privacy. COETAIL is by far the most public I have ever been on the world wide web. I’m not sure where my concerns are coming from as I also try to lead a life that I would be proud to share online… I suppose I am just choosing not to.
    Maybe it’s being in education that has made me oversensitive to my digital image? Setting a good example for students is an important concern, but I realise that I still need to live a life that shows a balance of personal and professional interests. It is difficult to pick and choose what is “released” by me or others… but I think the management of your profile is critical.
    Anyway… I know that the definition of privacy has been changed… or should be altered to reflect our new reality. I imagine that even if you tried to live in the backwoods of Canada in a log cabin that you built with your bare hands you would inevitably end up “on the radar” somehow.

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