At the newspaper we had certain justifications for printing certain news, especially news that seemingly invaded one’s privacy. For example, once you chose to be a public figure, either as an elected official or other choices that made you a prominent citizen, anything you did was up for grabs. Things that were no one’s business for a regular Joe became front page news if you were a public figure. In general, we respected someone’s privacy unless they gave us a reason not to either by choosing to be in the public’s eye or doing something publicly.
All that an introduction to the idea that in today’s world of blogs, facebooks, camera phones, etc., privacy as we know it no longer exists. On this very blog I have written about individuals without their foreknowledge or permission, and they may not have wanted me to do that. I don’t know whether they did or not because I didn’t ask. According to that logic, if you’re just in my life you should have no expectation of privacy. I may not use people’s names, or if I use names I may not use full names, but the point is that on my blog I write about personal experiences and that may sometimes including writing about the people in my life and often without their permission.
On facebook, people can upload pictures and “tag” me, and that picture can then be seen by all my friends. No one gets permission from me before tagging me – I’ve never asked permission from anyone before tagging them. You can remove tags, but that’s not part of this discussion. Recent photos — taken with digital cameras — have been tagged of me eating at a work luncheon, opening presents at Christmas, and playing shuttle pilot at space camp. But the ones I find most relevant in terms of privacy are the pictures of me from high school. In high school, photos were taken on film and they were actual prints that might have been shown to a few people and then put into an album to rarely be seen again. In high school, we had no way of knowing anything like facebook would exist and that photos we had long forgotten about would be posted for all the world to see. When a friend took a photo back then, there were cultural norms and expectations and limitations of what could happen to the photo. Today? You have no idea or control over how a snapshot photo of you can be used. And it can be used and spread world-wide immediately.
It’s easy to say that if you don’t want potentially embarrassing photos or stories out there then don’t do anything you might be ashamed of or might not want publicized. But when I say that privacy is gone, I’m not talking exclusively about embarrassing or questionable things — just anything. Trivial things even. And for that matter, was privacy ever really there, and is it just the various Internet applications that I have chosen to be a part of that are just now making that more apparent to me. Dunno.
Like the “Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us” video I posted here last week, such things certainly do give us more to think about.