Online privacy - are our standards changing?
This past spring, I, along with Larry Timbs and Will Atkinson presented a paper to the Newspaper Association of America dealing with the ethical problems that having newspaper archives digitized and online can raise -- things that were not issues in the era when archives fell under what in legal circles was known as "practical obscurity."
(Here is a summary column I wrote on it. The paper has now been published in Grassroots Editor and can be found here (PDF).)
During the research, Emily Nussbaum wrote in New York magazine about an emerging generation for whom privacy was perhaps a bit of a nostalgic concept and for whom the operative method was now to simply deal with it, accept that invasions would be part of your life and move on. (That's an over-simplification, and you should read the article.)
Then recently I came across this post by Zach Echola, a media producer in the upper Midwest, in which he talks about his attitude toward the privacy dangers online. Essentially, he throws it back at those who would find the information:
The real voyeurs are those employers and companies that pry into our online lives unprovoked and unnecessarily.
Much of what is on the Internet is not intended for a mass audience and never reaches that–or any–audience.
It is delusional to think that everything that happens online has any relevance beyond its creator’s ego. In the case of drunken Facebook photos between friends, the intent is for other friends to view the photos, not anyone else. ...
Are people really so dumb that they can’t differentiate work from play on the Web? I think not. And I think there’s a generation of kids coming into the work force with a basic understanding of this. ...
The greatest flaw in thinking about the Internet, is thinking that bloggers (including me), Facebook users or people who post photos to flickr want mass attention and fame. We don’t (or at the very least, we don’t expect it). We target our message, whether it be photos of a night out with friends or posts about the Internet, to those few people who might perchance stumble across a slice of our digital selves (key word: slice). We are outliers. We are all Chris Anderson’s Tail.
15 minutes of fame has given way to being famous to 15 people. Mass media is dying, if it isn’t already dead. Get over yourselves.
Isn’t privacy a two-way street?
Is this a naive cry in the wilderness, or are we really seeing a defiant shift here to perhaps a time when the rules have changed and privacy is seen as an almost quaint notion that is your responsibility, not mine?
(In our paper, we suggested there might even be a legal basis for this shift - a theory that turns media into custodians of the information with a duty not to disclose, rather than simply distributors. It's one of those ideas floating out there that journalists need to pay closer attention to, as they should be doing with much of modern information policy.)
Lots to think about. What do you think?