Last Christmas, infamous file leaker Edward Snowden delivered a two minute broadcast across the UK with a harrowing message regarding the digital invasion of privacy. He warns:
A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves – an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought.
As a latter Millennial I’ve grown up with all of this technology around, and personally participated in the rise of social media; we we’re the first to adapt to this new format of expression. Long before the Googles and Facebooks of Silicon Valley found a way to proficiently profit off of their free services, we enjoyed unfettered interconnectivity. Sure, internet speeds were painfully slow and websites were clunky, but we didn’t care; we were riding the wave of the future.
Fast forward a decade – our temporal trend is now ubiquitous. It’s almost hard to recall a time when I didn’t have a smart phone, or Facebook, or Gmail. And nowadays these services are just so prim, so neat, so integrated with every facet of my life – not a day goes by where I’m not immersed in the cyber realm. The greater part of my life is experienced online.
We Now Know
So we know about the PRISM scandal, we know that Google reads our emails, and we know that Facebook compiles our private information and sells it to ad agencies, and we don’t seem to care that much. As participants in the sphere of social media, we have sacrificed our privacy for convenience and thrill – these free services must come at a price, and as long as we can’t see the overt intrusion, we can easily look the other way.
We have come to accept the internet as a commercialized force, but what about a sharing of information that falls outside the boundary of societal convention? Remember back in 2011 – the Jasmine Revolution? Social media brought about revolutions all throughout the Middle East. Twitter alone spread solidarity like wildfire as a formerly oppressed people finally acknowledged their collective struggle and did something about it.
What about the Occupy Movement, remember that? The Anonymous Hackers, the Trayvon Martin Case, and more recently IS Terrorism and the Ferguson Riots in Missouri. There has been this presence of social media stoking these instances – a sort of hyper-pluralist nightmare where the most extreme views find a shared community. What happens when fringe groups plan something illegal? Are these individuals entitled to privacy? Are the media companies obligated to censor information that might be at odds with the law? Is there even a precedent?
Is Anyone Entitled to Privacy Online?
The answer is NO. All around the board. People who use social media are not entitled to privacy; media companies are only responsible to their stockholders, and there is no legal precedent, nor will there ever be. Social media companies gather up our private information, forcibly comply with all government requests for information, and reveal none of their operations to the public. All of these entities have too much to lose with regard to transparency.
Bottom line, we consumers of the modern digital realm are the only one’s responsible for our private information. It’s somewhat of a shame that we must overlook our constitutional rights if we want to use the internet for all of its potentially wonderful purposes, but our value of privacy is at complete odds with the current climate of cyber affairs. All that we as consumers can do is be aware.
I’m no expert in social media marketing, nor am I versed in the nuances of cyber security, but with regard to analysis of behavior and extraction of information, I have to agree with Snowden:
The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it. Together, we can find a better balance. End mass surveillance. And remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.
This same message applies to the Googles and Facebook hegemons of the computer age. We see this abusive spiral of big business and government intrusion in the private lives of our citizens. It’s becoming less and less clear who “Big Brother” even is anymore. Millennials are completely bewildered by this systemic invasion of privacy, but if we extrapolate the current trend of apathy compared to borderline anarchy, both extremes continue to bloom as moderates continue to wither. As for now, we must all be responsible for the information we share online. You have been warned.
Kiernan McGinnis is in his 3rd year at Lehigh University and a member of ArCompany’s Millennial Think Tank.