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When we con­sider pri­vacy from a broader his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive, it be­comes ev­i­dent that the mod­ern con­cept of pri­vacy is rel­a­tively new, says Sarah Pearce.

NZ Business - - CONTENTS - Sarah Pearce is a pro­fes­sional speaker, busi­ness coach, so­cial strate­gist and the au­thor of On­line Rep­u­ta­tion: Your Most Valu­able As­set in a Dig­i­tal Age. www.sarah­pearce.co.nz

Why so pri­vate then? By Sarah Pearce.

WITH THE role of pri­vacy and its im­por­tance in the dig­i­tal age once again hit­ting the news, it's worth re­flect­ing on some un­der­ly­ing as­sump­tions about it that are fre­quently made.

We take it for granted that our right to pri­vacy is al­ways as­sumed from a mod­ern per­spec­tive and some­thing worth de­fend­ing at all costs, and maybe it is, but to re­ally un­der­stand how to con­struct ap­pro­pri­ate and ef­fec­tive safe­guards for pri­vacy (if that is the end goal), it's nec­es­sary to start look­ing at how pri­vacy has evolved through­out his­tory and into the dig­i­tal age.

Per­haps David Houle sums it up best when he says: “It is now time for hu­man­ity to en­gage in a deeper dis­cus­sion of pri­vacy. Do we still have it, and how do we choose to live in a world where it is be­com­ing more ephemeral? What is the fu­ture of pri­vacy in the dig­i­tal world? Is pri­vacy dead? How do we live in a world with­out pri­vacy?”

Th­ese are great ques­tions, and frankly, the pri­mary rea­son that the is­sue has be­come so con­tentious is be­cause most peo­ple don't re­alise how much of their in­for­ma­tion is col­lected, stored, or ac­cessed by en­ti­ties that they have lit­tle or no con­nec­tion to.

This is usu­ally due to the fact that we have been con­di­tioned to ac­cept the terms and con­di­tions of al­most all sites and ap­pli­ca­tions with­out read­ing the fine print, or em­ploy­ing the use of op­tions that limit ac­cess to our in­for­ma­tion.

But when we con­sider pri­vacy from a broader his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive, it be­comes ev­i­dent very quickly that the mod­ern con­cept of pri­vacy is rel­a­tively new hav­ing been de­vel­oped within only the last two cen­turies. Fur­ther­more, hu­mans have al­most al­ways pri­ori­tised con­ve­nience or wealth-based ben­e­fits over the right to pri­vacy. Even the in­ter­net pioneer Vint Cerf stated, “Pri­vacy may ac­tu­ally be an anom­aly.”

We see ex­am­ples of this through­out hu­man evo­lu­tion. An­cient tribes of­ten shared no­madic homes with no walls – and no pri­vacy – even for the most in­ti­mate of mo­ments. When cities be­gan to form, the homes typ­i­cally also had no walls or very thin ones, again, pro­vid­ing lit­tle to no pri­vacy, though in many cities, pub­lic dis­plays of in­for­ma­tion and af­fec­tion were not dis­cour­aged.

Pri­vacy re­ally only gained even the small­est foothold af­ter the print­ing press was in­vented, pro­vid­ing a need for soli­tude and re­flec­tion dur­ing study, al­though even this phe­nom­e­non was a lux­ury that only the elite were privy to. In­di­vid­ual beds pro­vided an­other pro­found leap in the ex­pec­ta­tion of pri­vacy and with the changes of the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, the home slowly evolved to be­come a much more pri­vate place.

This is the point in his­tory in which pri­vacy be­comes an ex­pec­ta­tion, for the wealthy at least, and laws be­gan to be adopted to pro­tect in­for­ma­tion.

The shar­ing of early com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy, such as the tele­phone and tele­graph led to a de­sire from many to pre­vent oth­ers from know­ing the de­tails of such in­ter­ac­tions. Up un­til this time, gov­ern­ments had no is­sue with in­trud­ing upon the pri­vacy of in­di­vid­u­als when there was sus­pi­cion, and phone taps and bugs were fre­quently used.

Slowly, the ex­pec­ta­tion of pri­vacy was le­gally adopted.

Yet, with the tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion over the last sev­eral decades, there has been a re­ver­sal of the amount of pri­vacy in most in­di­vid­u­als' lives, al­though in this in­stance, it is of­ten freely given rather than taken by oth­ers.

Peo­ple store pass­words and al­low cook­ies be­cause it is con­ve­nient. Bio­met­ric data is col­lected as peo­ple adopt the use of wear­able de­vices that pro­mote fit­ness and health. Co­hab­i­ta­tion is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity in ma­jor ur­ban ar­eas due to high rent.

Th­ese ex­am­ples are part of a larger trend in which pri­vacy is made sec­ondary to con­ve­nience, health or profit. This is al­most ex­clu­sively viewed as a neg­a­tive con­se­quence – any in­ter­net search re­gard­ing the im­por­tance of in­ter­net pri­vacy will con­firm this en­tirely. But when it is ap­proached from a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive, then Vint Cerf's con­cept of pri­vacy as an anom­aly makes much more sense.

Per­haps the real ques­tion lies not in how much pri­vacy we need to pro­tect, but truly, how much do we want? While many in­di­vid­u­als cite pri­vacy as a top con­cern, this is­sue will con­tinue to evolve as other needs, such as the safety of com­mu­nity and con­ve­nience for the in­di­vid­ual, are deemed more im­por­tant than pri­vacy.

While there is no easy an­swer to this ques­tion, ev­ery dis­cus­sion about pri­vacy should in­clude the no­tion that it is a tran­sient con­cept, with a mean­ing that is con­stantly in ne­go­ti­a­tion by so­ci­ety. This may be one method for en­gag­ing in a much more pro­duc­tive di­a­logue con­cern­ing pri­vacy rights in the dig­i­tal age.

Source: His­tor­i­cal ex­am­ples and the time­line can be seen in this ar­ti­cle: https:// medium.com/the-fer­en­stein-wire/the-birt­hand-death-of-pri­vacy-3- 000-years-ofhis­tory-in-50-im­ages- 614c26059e)

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