The significant amount of our personal data is collected and stored on a regular basis. Therefore, the question about keeping privacy in technology becomes rhetorical because its violation is almost unavoidable (Porter). Nevertheless, experts are continuing to work on developing effective protection of personal information. The aim of this paper is to analyze the role of privacy in technology.
To start with, privacy and protection of information are essential human rights nowadays. They support such human values as freedom of speech, freedom of association and human dignity. “However, new technologies undermine individual rights because they facilitate the collection, storage, processing and combination of personal data for the use not only of government agencies, but also of businesses” (Friedewald and Pohoryles 1). The business is more interested in making profits than in keeping rights of the users, so customers become more and more unprotected over the time.
Despite the negative influence of technology on human privacy, it is necessary to realize that they are very connected and depend on each other, so they should be analyzed together. Friedewald and Pohoryles state that technology is a social notion or practice that comprises the ability of societies to convert themselves not only through producing and managing physical objects, but also with a help of various symbols of social relations and culture (1). As for privacy, it is an essential aspect of the described social relations. Therefore, technology affects people’s comprehension of privacy, and people’s comprehension of privacy is an important factor in determining the direction of technological progress. Therefore, I believe that policy-makers need to consider this connection between technology and privacy, or society will fail to lose the control over current technological and privacy revolutions. In other words, development of technologies has a negative effect on people’s privacy. New policies should be introduced to protect people from violation of private data.
To understand privacy in technology better, it is reasonable to consider the real life stories. First, humans constantly share a significant amount of information, which allows to see all our steps and actions. It happens so due to the presence of many electronic devices in our life that work as mediators. For example, a credit card transaction, all the emails and phone calls, and every web search are sources of information. Therefore, more and more organizations try to find the ways of making profits with this data. In fact, this idea is not new; credit cards, as well as loyalty cards from grocery stores, have been providing this kind of information for decades. Owners of grocery shops can use this data for analyzing buying habits of many of their customers and then try to satisfy the needs of the clients. The main aim of specialists that work with people’s private information is to get the real tangible value from the data. Moreover, extraction of personal information is often clear to a person who can notice it in the form of discounts for certain products, more attractive interest rates and other similar privileges. However, this process was intensified by using technologies. Companies spend much time and technological power to extract statistic data from consumers’ buying habits. Sometimes they cannot find a balance between effective advertising and absolute nonsense. For instance, in one famous scenario, Target managed to identify that a young girl was pregnant even earlier than she had informed her parents (Pascal 20). All these facts demonstrate that humans cannot avoid violation of their privacy because companies that develop and introduce technologies are not interested in this. In fact, such connection is beneficial for both sides. Users facilitate their life getting what they want, like attractive interest rates or discounts for favorite products. Service providers transform personal data into a valuable commodity and raise money selling it to other organizations.
The influence of technologies has become even stronger after invention of the Internet. Google, Facebook and other service providers started playing significant role in online operations and suddenly realized that the enormous quantity of information that they had could also be converted into a valuable commodity. In the beginning, the data was quite simple, but over the time they learnt to increase the quality and detail of the obtained information. It could be compared to a farmer who understood that he could transform straw into gold. Users mainly do not care about their search history for the last week or web browsing habits, but Google, Yahoo and other similar companies consider this data very valuable. Moreover, “it was worth so much that it enabled these companies to provide services with infrastructure costing billions of dollars to users absolutely free of charge” (Pascal 20). Therefore, users of internet technologies also were interested in cooperation with service providers. They could get many benefits free of charge.
One more technology that violated human privacy is social media that gained global popularity in the mid-2000s. In the beginning, it looked the same as Google, Yahoo etc. Namely, companies provided a varied set of sharing tools that the customers had never seen before. In return, they received a detailed map of the users’ social networks. The way of getting revenues by the companies was still unclear for customers and it was separated from their daily experience. However, experts of the internet companies quickly understood something deeper. In particular, peculiarities of human neuropsychology motivate users to share more private information starting from favorite books and music to favorite brands and restaurants. This has changed the realization of advertising, because advertisers could get information about the customers’ preferences directly, without using surveys, mass social psychology and others means to match their advertisements with people’s tastes and desires. Furthermore, the companies also found that the more information they had about users in general, the more precisely they were able to predict the user’s behavior. Over some time, no amount of information was too small to be registered, no data too unimportant. In addition, internet companies started seeking new means of forcing the customers to reveal more and more personal information; particularly, they achieved this by unexpected changing of privacy policies and involving millions of users into new services without their allowance. As a result, the balance of power between service providers and users was changed. Service providers succeeded in speculating on people’s social, neurological, and biological weaknesses; particularly, it is difficult for people to add value to abstract objects. As a result, voluntary sharing of the personal information in social networks is also very abstract to users, so they do it easily (Pascal 21). Therefore, social media became more technologically advanced, which allows to make profits on breaking privacy. Moreover, users help them actively, revealing more and more private data. There is a risk that the privacy will be reduced even more in the future, because it does not have any value for the internet companies.
However, not all the users are ready to keep patience when service providers violate their privacy. Over the last few years, there were numerous lawsuits against companies like Facebook, Netflix, LinkedIn, Google, and Apple. Customers accused them of different law violations from “reading” their emails, permitting mobile applications to reveal personal data to third parties to using a person’s “likes” as advertisements, naming them “sponsored stories.” Despite the fact that all these lawsuits finished with settlements or dismissals, they demonstrate that users value their privacy more than companies expect. Unfortunately, customers do not have a significant economic influence over these organizations, so the lawsuits become the most effective tool for protecting their privacy (Pascal 21). I believe that this tendency will continue, because people realized that they need a certain level of privacy and that it is of their essential needs.
However, sometimes the absence of privacy in technologies can be justified due to its positive effects. For example, Claire Porter (2014) found that “in the wake of the Boston bombings that the FBI had been contacted by Russian authorities about the Tsarnaev brothers about a year prior to the event warning them that the two were potentially dangerous to America’s national security but they were determined not to be a threat.” This case helped to realize that proper monitoring of computer software could give an opportunity to avoid a tragedy.
In conclusion, numerous experts and own experience demonstrate that amount of privacy is small in technologies nowadays. People share their personal data on a daily basis, and sometimes they even do not realize this. There also many companies that collect, store and process this information. In fact, this process started few decades ago, but today everything became more intensified due to the development of the Internet and social media. In addition, service providers have improved their methods of transforming personal data into a valuable commodity. For instance, the obtained information can help them to see buying patterns of users and predict their reaction to new products. Moreover, there are all chances that reducing of privacy in technology will continue in the future because privacy does not possess value for business. On the other hand, users also start realizing that privacy is important for them and go to the court. Apart from that, there are also those people and organizations that state that violation of privacy is necessary today. In particular, FBI informed that it is an effective measure against terroristic attacks.
Friedewald, Michael, and Pohoryles, Ronald J. “Technology and Privacy.” Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 26. 1-2 (2013): 1-6. Print.
Pascal, Brian. “How Technology Broke Privacy.” Litigation 40.3: 20-26. Print.
Porter, Claire. “Little Privacy in the Age of Big Data.” Guardian. 20 June 2014. Web. 4 October 2014.