Privacy in the digital age

On: September 8, 2013
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About Leon Meuwese


   

We live in an age where we share everything online. We share photos of our loved ones, our political thoughts but moreover we share irrelevant information. The internet has made this all possible. Companies like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and Google have made the transportation of information very easy and convenient. Most of the services they offer are free and with only one click you can be in touch with all your friends and relatives. But when companies are giving you free stuff you should be suspicious. What price are we paying for these ‘free’ services?

Google Privacy

I think we are giving up our privacy. Privacy is a very important right that we should protect more. In the digital age it’s becoming more and more unclear what is private and what is not. There are some online services that seem private but are not. The recent NSA affair has shown us that almost nothing we do online is actually private. We should be more aware of the importance of privacy.

Privacy is crucial for innovation and for the development of our society. When nobody is allowed to have secrets, society will stop to develop. It would be impossible to experiment with things that for example are illegal now, but maybe won’t be illegal in the future. Things like homosexuality or smoking marijuana. Those things where illegal in the past but are now, of course, legal in the Netherlands.

Some people say: “I have nothing to hide”. This is the wrong way of thinking. It misses a crucial step. It’s not the question whether you have something to hide or not, it is the notion that you should have the resources to hide something if you have too. Because total transparency is, in some way, the same as a totalitarian regime. Nobody will act, think or say what they actually believe, they will do as the mainstream. Governments will have the perfect weapon to control those who are against the ‘general thought’. There will be no room for a counter weight against the ruling powers. And also, you don’t know whether you have something to hide ore not. You don’t know what governments or firms are looking for. If you don’t know who is watching you it’s impossible to act against it. An important aspect of privacy is controlling who has access to private information.

Whatsapp

An example that shows that we don’t care about privacy anymore is the mobile application: Whatsapp. This chat-application has over 250 million users worldwide.[1] With this application it’s possible to communicate photos, movies, and text messages for free.[2] Most people use it every day to, for instance, to communicate with friends, family members and coworkers. They send very personal information through this medium. Information like personal codes, private pictures and bank account information.

To me it’s a bit strange that one company consisting of 35 employees, led by one man, Jan Koum, maintain the private communication between so many million people. We ‘give’ our most intimate and private information to a company without knowing anything about this firm. Whatsapp is cheap and convenient, adopted by merely everybody. In some social groups, you must have Whatsapp to keep up-to-date with what is going on. So I guess we find comfort more important than privacy nowadays.


[1] Rolfe Winkler, ‘WhatsApp Surpasses 250 Million Active Users’ in The Wall Street Journal 22 juni 2013.

[2] You only pay for the mobile data usage and in some cases for the application itself.

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