The Evolution of Privacy

“Without privacy, we lose our very integrity as persons” Charles Fried, 1968

Privacy is a concern for everyone; some are more private than others but a degree of privacy is essential. Unsurprisingly, the announcement of Facebook Home this year has once again raised this issue to the front pages. By tapping into a user’s phone, the social giant will be able to scrape personal data of all kinds; from an individual’s preferred friendship groups to their favourite restaurants and recipes. The reality is that without a major intervention, companies like Facebook will continue to push back the boundaries of privacy.

But is this push for open data just part of an inevitable evolution?

When the census was first introduced to America in the late 1700s it was widely regarded with mistrust. Sex was considered too private to be spoken of until the mid 90s. And a report by the Scientific American in 1973 said that computers constituted a real threat to privacy – well before the internet had been invented. Is it possible that in 20 years time the thought of blocking companies like Facebook from anonymously collecting personal data would be considered prudish and laughable?

Personal data is only going to become more important for driving effective technologies (Google Glass for instance); and these same technologies are becoming more integrated into the population’s daily lives. What we’re seeing is a cultural change that requires accessible data – if you want to use that really handy thing over there, then it’s going to need to know how to be handy. Facebook, Google, Apple and shopping online would be a great deal less effective without data; it would also be incapable of improving.

I don’t deny that there will be scandals along the way, and that laws will need to be retrospectively introduced in order to protect civil rights – but this is all part of an inevitable shift towards a more open society that is fuelled by access to personal data.


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