Sunday, 17 April 2016

Generation ‘Share’ knows nothing about privacy

It used to be that when one wanted to keep a conversation private all they had to do was shut the door, when one felt strong enough about a memory it was locked in a drawer and when moments were utterly precious they were appreciated instead of being documented for future enjoyment.

Those days are long gone, for the private generation is dwindling to make way for generation ‘share’. It is evolutionary I suppose, but with all the moments, memories and conversations being streamed, beamed and uploaded into clouds has the idea of privacy been mutilated? Slashed at and cut through by the hands of all the Tweeters, Instagramers and Snapchatters out there?

Having to explain to a child of today, who has learned to swipe before they can speak, that certain aspects of a person’s life must remain private for the preservation of one’s sanity is almost frivolous. At one point in time privacy was so sacred that the world agreed to make it a fundamental human right, we agreed then we forgot. The need for privacy is a universal human condition that is essential to the growth process of a human being yet somehow our obsession with sharing has blinded us to the most human of behaviours.

It used to be that the world had to come up with ingenious ploys to pry information out of our clenched hands. Privacy pirates even resorted to reverse psychology deploying efforts to convince us that having access to our information is in fact for our own safety. No schemes needed now for we divulge all without a care in the world, without a moment’s thought, because life is not lived if it’s not being shared.

Steve Jobs’ Apple Inc. was recently under fire for refusing to unlock and extract data from an iPhone at the request of the FBI. While the debate raged on whether or not Apple should adhere to the FBI request most people did not really care whether or not a company could hack into their personal devices and retrieve any information they wanted and more of them believed it was being done already! Let’s face it, nobody ever reads those lengthy privacy agreements and none of us really know what we are accepting when we eagerly click the ‘I Agree’ option on any of these products. We do that not because we are incapable of reading but rather because the lure of technology is such that it has made us indifferent about our once revered privacy.

The messaging service WhatsApp, which has been operating since 2010, has only last week assured its one billion users that their “private” conversations have now become “safe”. What that means for us users is that six years’ worth of private, intimate or critical information have been up for grabs to anyone, to WhatsApp’s defence they do mention that in their privacy agreement which of course none of us have read.

The question here is not whether or not companies are keeping our data secure once they have acquired it but rather do we really care if they are? Because in a world where one is identified and rewarded not by their productive input but rather for how much of their private lives they are willing to reveal, the more you share the more you become. And so it is inevitable that the day has come when we write about privacy with such nostalgia, analysing it as we would some unearthed fossil of a creature our human eyes had never fallen on. Our children might never understand why their parents’ conversations should not be broadcast and that their future selves would probably regret publishing every thought that ran through their young heads because privacy is a concept that must be relearned in an age where it has become a currency that cannot be cashed.

This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 17 April, 2016  http://bit.ly/1p8cWEb
Arabic version of this article appeared in Al Khaleej newspaper http://bit.ly/1SmLQHl

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