2010 in Tech: The Elusive Concept of Privacy

by Jordan Richardson on December 31, 2010

Privacy has been an interesting issue in all things tech and 2010 featured no shortage of stories in which it was at the core. The concept itself is compelling in this day and age, with the very nature of the internet demanding a very specific set of rules.

The word privacy comes from the Latin privatus, which can essentially be broken down to mean “separate from the rest” or “deprived of something.” This is by no means an exact definition and I’m not a scholar in Italic languages, but I do think the concept is interesting when examined from its etymological roots.

The notion of privacy is that of keeping oneself separate from the rest, which denotes a form of purposeful seclusion whether dealing with information or any other personal details. We expect privacy in that we expect to be able to reveal our information at will. We expect to be able to refuse to reveal our information, too.

Where the internet changes things is in the nature of information on what is essentially a “superhighway.” How can you control information when it’s moving so fast and so far in so short a time? You can take precautions, but the second you and your information step out on to that thriving street you’re at risk of getting bowled over by a speedy little stooge.

Enter 2010 and projects like Google Buzz, an invention so strange and so meddlesome that it raised the ire of nearly everyone subjected to its pesky presence, would test our ideas of privacy. The appropriately bee-like Buzz was Google’s clumsy thrust into the ripe flower of social networking, as I’m sure readers recall thanks to Matt Klassen’s insightful reporting. It was enough to raise red flags with Canadians as well, causing the Privacy Commish to fire off a strongly-worded letter.

Facebook had more than its fair share of privacy issues, as you might imagine. There was the revamped groups feature, the problem with Places, the curious and potentially devious manipulation of language in the user agreement, and many more issues of Zuckerbergian proportion that plagued confused users.

The most fascinating component of these stories, at least from my perspective, is the human component. The vast majority of privacy issues seem to be a meeting of human error with technological advances. We aren’t yet sure what to make of the internet and we still are not acquainted with how such a busy, fast, enormous superhighway functions. We aren’t certain about what happens when we step off the curb and into traffic and we want to be protected, to be “secluded.”

2010 offered up a host of privacy issues. With 2011 right around the corner, the year is sure to offer more of the same, especially as the traffic continues to increase and the speed limit does the same. It should be well-known by now that privacy controls offered by any website or corporation are mere illusions, like Mel Gibson’s integrity.

The only real control we have over our information and our personal details on the internet is the control we take ourselves, so may the new year be the year we finally figure out how to harmonize our desires for privacy with our broader communal experience online.

Photo c/o I Can Has Cheezburger.

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Written by: Jordan Richardson. www.digitcom.ca >. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com > by: RSS >, Twitter >, Identi.ca >, or Friendfeed >

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