Proceed with Caution: Privacy (or lack thereof) in the Digital Age

This week’s reading by Preston Russett, “Comtemporary Portrait of Information Privacy,” reflects upon internet users of today and how they are desensitized to viewing personal information on the web.

“Online practices are conditioning the individual to shrug when individual preferences and private needs are exposed to not only an individual’s eyes and ears, but to anyone in eyeshot and earshot. Selective disclosure is dissolving. Popular social networks go as far as promoting and popularizing unabashed disclosure of intimate personal information to interested voyeurs and massive friend lists. McCullagh (2010) observes, ‘‘Internet users have grown accustomed to informational exhibi- tionism’’ (p. 2). The standards being cultivated in online spheres could soon apply to physical spheres. The transition toward total daily exposure will be smooth if we are effectively conditioned now to accept and embrace regular information exploitation and ‘‘degrading surveillance’’ (Albrecht & McIntyre, p. 4)” (Russett, 43).

Russett is exploring the possibility that if there is so much private information to be found on the internet, perhaps eventually exploiting this information will become a non-issue. By putting one’s address or cell phone number on their Facebook page, they are no longer putting themselves at risk for identity theft. This is only one idea explored in his reading, which he later disproves.

I feel a little weary about this perspective. Have we honestly reached the point in our society that we have no levels whatsoever of privacy? That we are so exposed to the raw version of each other that there is no mystery left? Sure, it would be nice to think that such easy access to this information would positively impact crime rates. However, the reality of human nature is that predators will always prey on the vulnerable. The more stripped and exposed we are on the internet, we are more likely to be a target.

Russett concludes his article with a wise warning:

“Ultimately, the individual must first accept and acknowledge that no privacy is the new default. We must be explicitly educated on the happenings and dealings around us in order to avoid, and submit, when we deem the act worthy and plausible. Selective disclosure and personal information manipulation are now more important than ever, because at any moment, any action and behavior can be recorded, analyzed, and used against us. We live in an era of collective and individual communicative consequences for all of us operating in this digital age.”

This article explores the possible future of information technology, but acknowledges the risks that will always exist. While we may feel comfortable putting ourselves out there for all to see, the risks and consequences of our digitally documented lives should always be at the forefront of our internet usage.

Russett, Preston. ” A Contemporary Portrait of Information Privacy: Collective Consequences of Being Digital.” Review of Communication 11.1 (2011): 39-50. Web. 13 November 2013.

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