Is Privacy Overrated?

In last week’s seminar, we discussed the internet of things and a future(/present?) in which an unprecedented amount of data is collected on us. Although the sensor-filled world envisioned by the prescient Embedded, Everywhere report has instead been realized through the capabilities of our smartphones, the reality of the amount of information that is collected on each one of us is immense. This, naturally, brings up privacy concerns.

One of our readings noted something along the lines of the fact that people are bothered by infringements on privacy taken by new technology until they grow accustomed and even dependent on the ease that it brings. For example, during opening days I spent some time looking at 5’x7′ rugs from various sellers for our common room. Soon enough I started to see ads for rugs everywhere; Indeed, to this day rugs will pop up in my Facebook ad bar. Sure, this is a bit “creepy,” but isn’t targeted advertising better for everyone? It connects sellers with interested buyers and helps show buyers many options from different suppliers, saving everyone time in the end. And yes, I ended up buying one of the rugs that popped up on Facebook.

In addition, it’s not like humans are sitting with these masses of data and helping direct these targeted ads and more. It’s an automated process, and I don’t think many people actually view most of the data. Personally, I don’t have much of an issue with that. Considering the enormity of the amount of data that has been collected on each of us, I find that there is a sense of anonymity in the crowd. That is, it seems unlikely that most of us will be tracked by someone who has access to this data.

We discussed this in class too—the idea that most of us are “safe” because we’re just not interesting enough. Admittedly, for someone like Professor Smith as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, this doesn’t apply. Certain types of data will be interesting enough for people to dig up.

In addition, although it may be true that for most of us this data collection is harmless, there is the question of our right to privacy. Perhaps there should be an explicit way of opting into this data collection. But I doubt many people would consciously be willing to forfeit their privacy, and then we would lose out on the benefits of the way technology harnesses this data altogether.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Yasmin, I have to admit that I’m not as comfortable as you seem to be with all the data collection that takes place, and I wonder how much this is because we both grew up in different times. I didn’t experience much benefit from a loss of privacy, where personalized presentations are much more natural, common, and helpful to you. Overall, you’re asking the right questions and thinking through things carefully. I can only ask that you continue and make up your mind on what’s right for you.

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