Recent headlines around privacy, super injunctions and scandals involving celebrities, sports stars and bankers make it seem like something new and dangerous has appeared out of the ether, when in fact it is nothing other than the usual, albeit grossly exaggerated, effect of disruptive technologies and their use / abuse, laced with a titillating hint of salacious gossip fodder. The rest is history, or not.
Internet technologies and social media applications like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have made it child’s play for anyone to create instantaneous headline / publicity, or what I call a “flash buzz”, over almost any topic, event or person. There is no gainsaying the fact that social media has established itself as a bonafide media channel through which people can get the fastest and most direct access to world events, and to each other. But this is only just the beginning, if you consider the mountains of so called big data being fed each and every second by these, and other sources of information.
Once upon a time news information trickled down through well established but rather narrow media channels (i.e. news print, Radio and TV), but that trickle has become a fast moving stream, full of all any kind of debris (i.e. meaningless chatter) and valuable nuggets of information about you, your friends (or followers, fans, contacts etc.) and any number of other people. When combined with other Internet applications, such as the World Wide Web and a good search engine, no topic is out of reach for an intrepid seeker. So where does this leave us? What will happen to the existing media / information channels; will they be swallowed up by the deluge of information and get lost in the remarkably high noise-to-signal ratio? Will established media channels, businesses and industry go the way of the music industry?
I think not, because thankfully, there is still something to be said for the perceived authority of the printed word, and many people will still probably take the words on a printed sheet over words on a screen. Also, despite the wow factor of a new information source / channel offered by social media applications, it is still just that; only another source or channel for information. They are not mutually exclusive, and in fact people even use multiple information channels simultaneously. But what has this got to do with privacy?
Why, everything. The increasing trend for easily accessible data, information and knowledge streams means that sooner or later, and to varying degrees of completeness and accuracy, your so called private information will become available online, if it is not already out there. But what does this mean for ordinary individuals that go about minding their own business? Not much, I imagine, but for those with something to hide, or protect (in good cause or not), this can be a very real problem as the recent controversy over super injunctions in the UK will attest. Furthermore, for enterprises that make it a key activity to interact and deal directly with customers, this can be a gold mine (or just a plain minefield) to be navigated and exploited with extreme care as significant legal battles will likely continue to be fought over this particular topic.
In any case, one thing that seemingly escapes attention in the increasingly episodic furore over privacy is that the upcoming generation of Internet savvy digital natives may not see privacy in the same light our current generation of digital immigrants do. If social media was the norm at the time of your birth, or before, then it may be fair to ask just what the fuss is all about.