Opinion | Email change sparks discussion, controversy over privacy in more than just technology
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2013 23:01
The recent migration from Miami University’s previous, private email server to Google Apps for Education sparked a conversation between a faculty member and me last week. Though it began as an expression of discontent with the smoothness of transition, it blossomed into a much broader discussion about concern over the lack of privacy associated with the ever-growing interconnectedness between ourselves and the electronic world.
While computers have made storing, processing and accessing information fast and easy for the consumer, they have done the same for business. The conveniences of accessibility and speed have been accompanied by the growing mounds of data created by the flurry of electronic activity.
Many of us hardly stop to think about the fact that this reliance on computers means that there are rarely actions anymore that are not monitored, noted or tracked in one way or another, but that’s the way of the present world. The thought that essentially everything you buy, the websites you visit, the emails you send, the blogs you post and the calls you make are stored electronically somewhere probably makes most people uneasy. It certainly did the person with whom I was speaking. The feeling must be similar to what citizens of Oceana felt like with Big Brother constantly monitoring them. But take a second to consider an alternative perspective. Maybe you’ll decide that the surveillance is not so bad after all.
Every time you visit a web site, swipe your credit card, buy a product or express an opinion on a public forum, you are voting. You are voting for products, services, and behavior that have been worth an investment of your time and/or money. To be sure, much, if not most, of these actions are going to be scrutinized in some way.
Your peers on Facebook and LinkedIn are going to criticize your profiles and posts, and companies from whom you purchased products with your frequent shopper’s card are going to analyze your shopping habits. In both instances, your actions have the power to cause change.
Facebook, something that nearly all of us can relate to, now has over 1 billion users. That’s an insane number considering there are only a little over 7 billion people in the world. Until the extremely recent past, there simply has not been the means available to reach such a vast audience so quickly. If social networking services like Facebook are shrinking the world and making privacy more difficult to come by, they are also providing opportunity.
From the perspective of the company trying to sell, the opportunity is for marketing. From the perspective of the individual, the opportunity is for expression and sharing of ideas, opinions, photos, videos or whatever else you may find meaningful. In any case, sacrificing the privacy for the opportunity is a more than reasonable trade-off.
Of course, Internet behavior is not the only source of electronic data. In my wallet there are 12 cards that can be used to either provide payment, gain access, accumulate rewards points for shopping or otherwise achieve something that I decided at one time would be worth filling out a form for. For each of these cards, there are corresponding databases containing information about me and my past usage of that account.
Obviously, the same goes for you and the cards in your wallet. And though I am sure that Kroger and Shell both care about us saving money on groceries and gas, it’s probably not nearly as much as they care about the money we give them or the data they are able to collect about our consumption habits.
This type of information is how Target can send ads in the mail that are eerily personal (it’s like they know exactly what you want!) and grocery stores know that stocking the healthy food at the front-right portion of the store increases the chances you will also indulge in buying less healthy food that you encounter later in the visit. It’s also the kind of information that ultimately drives companies to evolve, and this evolution mirrors the decisions that we collectively make.
What I’m trying to say is that if the choices you make coincide with your values, there is no reason to fear an invasion of privacy. You should want peers, businesses, politicians, the government and potential employers to take notice of the decisions you are making, because maybe it will influence them to change. Businesses are always going to want your money, politicians are always going to want your vote and peers are generally going to want your approval. Leave them an electronic trail you are proud of, and you will have helped make the world a better place.