On being … a paradigm shift?

By Ingrid Sapona

Before I begin, let me say that the decision to write about today’s topic came to me as I was watching the morning news, so I’m sure there are angles I’ve not considered (hence the question mark). But the theme – the issue, really – has been on my mind for quite some time, so I thought I’d put it forward for your consideration.

Many years ago I remember being incensed – INCENSED – when I heard that a titan of technology told an audience at some tech conference that we have no privacy and we should all “just get over it”. (To give you an idea of how long ago that was, I just Googled it and it was Scott McNealy, chief executive officer of Sun Microsystems, who said that in 1999.) I was irritated by his cavalier attitude about privacy and bothered by the idea that folks in the tech sector think they know better than the rest of us.

McNealy’s comments ignited a minor firestorm at the time – a flurry of outrage that, I thought, died down too quickly. But, though the spotlight faded from McNealy, over time the topic of privacy started making its way into the mainstream news. And of course, last year Edward Snowden, who publicized lots of information that some would argue was private, has (ironically) become the bellwether of privacy.

Though most people seem to focus on matters of government surveillance and the impact of that on our right to privacy, not as many seem troubled about the information private companies and organizations openly and surreptitiously collect about us (and often sell to others). Though I’m used to it, it still surprises me – and creeps me out a bit – when ads pop up on my computer screen with offers from hotels I’ve recently stayed at or for goods or services I recently searched for. But, what can you do? Or, you may think, what harm can come of it? Ahhh… that’s the more interesting question, isn’t it?
And then there’s today’s news story about the missing Malaysian jet. As the story’s unfolding we’re hearing about all the different avenues investigators are pursuing. We’re all relieved to know that it’s not just a function of people in helicopters or on ships scanning the ocean’s surface for clues. It’s way more sophisticated than that, so we’re learning. For example, though we’ve all heard of the flight data recorder – the black box – I’ll bet few people realized that modern jets are equipped with devices that send signals back to the manufacturer. Hmm… sounds a bit like the GPS system insurance companies would like to see in cars to track drivers’ whereabouts and behaviour – an idea many oppose as an intrusion into their privacy.

In the old days – I mean the early days of the internet – folks believed they could protect their privacy by taking the proper steps. So, as long as you were careful and paid attention to the public and private settings on things like YouTube and Facebook, your privacy was protected. Now, that seems as naïve a belief as the notion that if you delete an e-mail, the information is gone. Of course, I wonder how many readers who may have just chuckled at those examples weren’t quite so amused when they heard just how smart their smart phone is and how much it can tell others about them.

© 2014 Ingrid Sapona


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