Privacy: A Quaint Notion

Poor Jennifer Lawrence. Her nude photos posted, blasted, shared, across numerous websites. A naughty snap secured on that mysterious thing called the cloud. And the digital thugs who ripped it from the nether regions of some server somewhere. Foul, foul, foul!

But hang on, Edward Snowden is hailed as a hero for making public classified information from the NSA showing that the top secret agency was spying on Americans. Is there a difference between the two cases? Are both Snowden and the faceless server-Peeping Toms villains?

By now, half of readers are screaming that the two were completely different – one was a private invasion and the other a public good. The other half are cheering. But that is the point – our media is not just changing what we can share and how we share – but our very concepts of what privacy means. And if you are not thinking about that every time you use the Internet, or take a pic and post anywhere, caveat emptor!

“There is no such thing as privacy anymore!” exclaimed one of the country’s leading privacy experts, who asked not to be named, when asked about how she would define privacy today. “Only a fool would still think that you could put anything anywhere connected to the web and truly believe it won’t be gotten by others.”

Privacy. Such a quaint notion. In the old days JLaw would have either taken photos with a Polaroid, had the film developed (yes they could have been stolen then but then she knew she was giving the naughties to them and crossing her fingers they wouldn’t look) or used a digital camera with a chip that you then put on your computer and printed. To get the pics you would either have to steal them from the photolab or break into her house. Privacy was an easier concept – and invading that privacy was so much more clear cut.

Now beware. Snapchat, the photo messaging application, was supposed to guarantee privacy. You could share a picture privately with a friend and not worry about it being more than that because it disappeared in a few seconds. Gone forever. Well at least that was how it was meant to work. Then it was revealed that those revealing Snapchats lived on far, far longer. And if they lived on longer, then they could be JLaw’ed.

Nothing is sacred. For those of you inclined, Google tracks your porn searches. Moreover, check the cookies on your computer and realize what you gave up by just turning on that desktop/laptop. You will be amazed how many companies you have never heard of and to whom you did you did not give consent to access your computer, have planted their tracking code on your device. ATM suggests periodically cleaning out all website data, at a minimum.

If you have allowed a phone app to use your location info – you are now essentially carrying the same thing as an ankle bracelet used to track felons. You are not the only one who can launch the “find my iPhone.”

But perhaps there is hope. A recent Pew study says that people are far less likely to share their political views on social media when they think a majority of others might disagree. So at least we seem to be keeping our political thoughts to ourselves a bit.
So maybe that’s the secret. If you want to keep it private – pass that note in class. Or just don’t take those photos in the first place.

But in the meantime, we are all Jennifer Lawrence, just without the fame and the hacked photos, at least as far as we know.

Amos Gelb is the founder and director of the Washington Media Institute.

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