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16 Oct 2017

NBlog October 16 - is privacy a lost cause?

Today I've been thinking and writing about privacy risks, comparing the differing perspectives of individual people and organizations.

Something that stands out from the risk analysis is that, despite journalists, authorities, privacy pro's and victims being aghast when privacy breaches occur, we all gladly accept significant privacy risks as a matter of course. In a few cases (e.g. tax), we have virtually no choice in the matter, but mostly we choose to share our personal information, trusting that the recipients will protect it on our behalf.

To be honest, privacy doesn't even enter our minds most of the time. It doesn't occur to us, because of our blase attitudes.

Admittedly, it would take extreme measures to be reasonably assured of complete privacy, and even then there would still be risks: consider people in 'witness protection schemes' for example, or moles, spies, criminals and terrorists doing their level best to remain anonymous, below the radar. We know they don't always succeed.

Extremists aside, ordinary people like you and me mostly pay scant attention to our privacy. We use the Internet, and cellphones, and all manner of government and commercial services either under our own names, or with superficial efforts to conceal our identities. We share or post selfies online, email and text others, and wander about in public spaces under the full gaze of myriad CCTV cameras. We use our credit and debit cards to buy stuff, register for various services, and generally anticipate nothing untoward ... which in turn places even more pressure on the organizations and individuals to whom we disclose our personal information, hence the reason that privacy laws such as GDPR are so important in a societal sense.

Attitudes have changed markedly within a generation or three. Way back when I was a naive young lad, the very concept of taking, let alone sharing explicit selfies was alien to me. Porn was available, of course, but access was discreet, guilt-ridden and exceptional, despite the raging hormones. As Victorian values have relaxed, we've been through "free love", page 3 girls, Hugh Heffner, tolerated or legalized prostitution, gay rights and other largely sexual revolutions - in most Western nations anyway: clearly there are cultural discrepancies with distinct differences of opinion on decorum and propriety. Scandinavian attitudes to nudity are part of the enjoyment of saunas, for me: the naked human body is something to be revered and celebrated, as it was in the original Olympic games. I still smile when I remember a male American guest at a sauna party in the 80's, already feeling distinctly awkward about the men enjoying their collective nakedness, quite unable to cope with an influx of naked women when 'their' sauna went cold: he left hurriedly, all a fluster.

Privacy, then, is just as much a cultural phenomenon as it is a question of personal information, informed disclosure, security and so on. The underlying issue is more to do with control of personal information, than protection. Whether I choose to reveal my secrets to others, or to withhold it, is the key point, a dynamic concern with cultural as well as personal overtones, making privacy a deeper, more involved and more interesting awareness topic than it might appear.

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