Privacy – A Paradise Lost

Who’s watching you?
Image courtesy of: http://www.computerworld.com.au

Lets just get it out there – these days there is nowhere to hide, no privacy.

This is a story of the 21st century. We don’t need 20th century ideas like Kim Jong-il and Big Brother. All we need is our friends and neighbours. Or perhaps ex-friends.

Here’s the first scenario: you are careful to protect your identity when on-line. You read Terms and Conditions closely. You make a decision NOT to join Facebook because you feel that their T&C’s are just wrong and don’t like the morality of their founder and the way they seem to do business and not look after your privacy.

With those web services you do join you are careful and circumspect with the personal information you give. While not being deceitful when real personal information is required, you take care to limit what is provided so that tracking you, or finding out who you are in the real world is not as easy as it might otherwise be. For example, when a photo of you is required you use one that your friends would recognise as you but would make it difficult for a stranger to spot you on the street.

You know that in the world of Facebook  there are 1 billion users and of those some will be crooks on the prowl. This is not being paranoid, this is just adopting a sensible 21st century mindset.

But then the defences crumble. And they crumble quite innocently and non malevolently. Someone has posted a picture of you on Facebook (or possibly some other web facility). The photo is not of you exactly – rather a group photo at some function or event but with a clear and full frontal view of you – and tagged your name to it.

In one short moment so much of your caution and care has been blown and put to waste. There are also other important issues such as with Facebook, they now claim ownership of the photo and you may never be irretrievably untagged. It is possible (although agreed, unlikely) that it could be used for widespread advertising or whatever else Facebook wishes.

But what if the photo was yours to begin with and a copy given to others at the function – the unspoken intent being for personal use. You still own it, but anything like group photos are quite likely to be passed on sooner or later, even if it is a breach of copyright. As a digital file you have no idea of where it could be sent and therefore who might end up posting it on the web, or for what reason – even if innocent. Once someone posts it onto Facebook their T&C’s say that they, Facebook, now own it, even though it wasn’t the poster’s to give away.

I understand that Facebook allows one to force a third party to untag you from photos, but to do so requires you having a Facebook account in the first place, and presumably in a version of your name identical to the tagging.

If you do not know the photo has been posted and do not know the person who posted it, or for relationship reasons do not wish to contact that person, then the only option is to live with the privacy breach.

Welcome to the modern world.

The second scenario is this: you are in your backyard, sunbathing scantily clad, or perhaps doing a bit of gardening without your designer trackkies on. Although you are surrounded by solid, high fences, you notice that there is a camera pointed at you from the side of your neighbours house.

Based on a radio program I have just heard, here in NSW Australia at least, it is not a crime to erect a “security” camera and direct it into a neighbours backyard.

Similarly, even if there are rules regarding the flying of drones there are apparently no controls on the use of it by someone to observe what is going on in your backyard, if operated by an individual. This has actually happened recently in Mollymook.

Needless to say I think anyone would count either of these as invasive. Certainly it is inconsistent as I believe that here in NSW it is actually illegal to use a camera on a beach – or at least there are laws covering how a camera can be used on a beach – just to protect people’s privacy.

Image courtesy of: protect.iu.edu

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