Privacy has become a slippery little bugger. There’s so little of it left. But it’s not just being devoured by faceless corporations and airport body scanners. You know who’s most likely to breach your privacy? Someone who loves you. Your friend. Your partner. Your mother. Your cousin. Your flatmate. All well meaning. All potentially compromising.
I spent a lovely hour one night this week watching the birth video of a woman I’d never met. I was supposed to be writing this column but in the spirit of modern procrastination, I followed a link emailed by a friend and ended up on a blog belonging to a Brisbane woman who took photos of her child every day for a year. She wrote that it helped her see her daughter “in a different way” and they were indeed gorgeous, interesting photos. The birth video was an added extra. I cried. I may have also ovulated.
I loved the site but another friend included on the same email felt uneasy. She liked the photos but was concerned by how easily she’d been given intimate access into a stranger’s life. “What about the choice of the child?” she asked. “As parents, do we automatically have the right to put our kids’ lives online? What will she say when she’s 21…. or even 10?” Another friend disagreed: “If the worst thing in your life is that your parents posted some photos of you dressed up as a frog or breastfeeding …. I mean, first world problems. “
This isn’t new, this desire to share. We’re just documenting our lives in different ways. Instead of diaries or scrapbooks or photo albums, we post pictures and blog and tweet. Social media is the modern version of cave paintings. The key difference is the scalability. Unlike the physical and geographic limitations of scrapbooks and caves, anyone anywhere can hop online. In fact, that’s the point. The more friends, followers, readers, the better. That’s how social media works.
The town square never shuts down in 2011. People are broadcasting details of their lives constantly and even if you’re not a broadcaster, every point in the day where your life intersects with another person who has an Internet connection, your privacy can be breached.
Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has recommended stronger laws to punish those who publish damaging images on social networking sites that could get someone fired, blacklisted by future employers or put them in physical danger. If you were a victim of such publication, you could sue that person for damages.
But that’s not what we’re talking about. The greater danger to your privacy is more innocuous and likely to come from someone who ISN’T trying to hurt or harm you at all. The opposite.
Privacy now comes in 1000 shades of grey and everyone’s line between private and public is different. And this is how someone’s privacy can be unexpectedly breached in a click.