Digital Privacy…Get with it!

I would like to think my learning patterns have changed drastically since I was in elementary or high school. I couldn’t be bothered to stare at a book, article or blog (not that they were widely available) for more than ten minutes until my late high school/early university years. I would occasionally be inspired on current events, history, or any of the latest greatest movies I would binge watch (something I do not actually regret one bit). I’d like to think that with maturity, appreciation and a stronger craving for knowledge, my learning curve has grown exponentially.

But then, I have moments like yesterday.

I sat for a while in silent reflection after watching Cullen Hobacks’ tremendous documentary “Terms and Conditions May Apply”and thought “you moron…you have been learning about media privacy, laws, policies and anything else that touches on digital privacy for three years now… and NOW YOU GET INSPIRED?” Admittedly, my frustration is specifically suited towards my tendency to quickly lose interest in subjects I’m forced to learn…but not in subjects I research on a whim.

I do have my studies to thank for keeping me current and engaged in this fast-paced technologically driven world we live in. It would be pretty difficult for a developing story such as Julian Assange or Edward Snowden to creep whimsically over my head the last four or five years. Ironically, these men continue to dominate the news as I write this, Assange, with his Swedish arrest warrant possibly being lifted this week. Not to mention my personal favourite, Snowden claiming that NSA officials pass intercepted civilian nude pictures around the office.

Some days it seems like the men who fought the law and the law didn’t win. Other days, it seems that whether you’re a whistleblower or an average Joe, winning is far from a reachable goal.


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Yet, if there is anything my studies and Terms and Conditions May Apply have taught me, it is that small victories really count for the little guys. Yet, they are not to be oversold. They are exactly that…small victories in a big war.

Let me give a run down on Terms and Conditions May Apply to better prove my point. I have to start off by saying that I highly recommend giving this 90-minute documentary a watch solely based on its educationally engaging nature. The flow, like an argumentative essay, delivers the thoughts and feelings of the creator point after point like quick jabs a la Mike Tyson.

The real life accounts in this documentary are by far the difference maker personally. Some are incredibly eye-opening to our dependence on technology, especially in our places of business. For example, a man in Minneapolis barged into a Target superstore a few years ago furious at the company for sending home flyers and coupons for baby food and other child care products. This flyer was addressed to none other than his teenage daughter. He accused the company of trying to target (no pun intended) and brainwash his daughter into thinking that pregnancy at her age was affordable. What the fuming father did not know is that these flyers were manufactured by a computer algorithm programmed to calculate a user’s recent searches. The software then prints and mails the advertisement to their address. To put simply, target’s computer hardware knew that this man’s 16 year-old daughter was pregnant before he did.

The story, while shocking, leaves much to the imagination. Surely, this is a testament to how we now live our lives in a digital age. The chance of keeping the subject of teenage pregnancy a secret in the information age compared to 50 years ago are next to impossible. However, is this really a privacy issue or a flaw in technology? Wouldn’t this technology prove to be extremely useful to a twenty-five year-old mother of several children who may be looking to save on any product she can?

Similar challenges can be made for other examples.

A man who posted a seemingly disturbing Facebook status about how “this psycho might snap and stalk office to office with *insert some rifle I’ve never heard of*”. For those of us who are up on their pop culture, the status may have sounded familiar…like from the 1999 renowned film Fight Club. To the NYPD SWAT team however…it sounded like a threat, and the man quickly found his apartment surrounded by several officers.

The list of contradictory examples go on. Simply put, it is truly fascinating how the authorities may seem to get a hold of these seemingly innocent posts on Twitter or Facebook…but it is not as all worrisome as it seems. After all the violence America has seen whether it be Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook or the Colorado movie theatre shootings….almost all have had some sort of disturbing internet search history/social media posting from the accused.

I can sit here all day finding post after post of examples. Instead, I’ll offer a recent CNN article that reports on the disgusting case of a father leaving his infant son in a hot car to die. If that wasn’t already devastating enough, the man allegedly searched “how hot a car has to be to kill a child” on the internet just a few days previous to the incident.

My purpose in writing this blog is not to challenge every notion that a documentary, article or some argumentative production has against a subject (like online privacy settings). Being fully in favour of these so-called “privacy” settings instilled on sites like Facebook or Google is essentially a more dramatic example of turning a blind eye to murder. My goal is to instead offer a different opinion. To illuminate the possibility that a good documentary, again compared to a good argumentative essay, cleverly illuminates one side of an argument or story. If it did not do this, it would not be a very good piece of work, would it?

There is a certain fine line that I draw when it comes to Internet privacy. In contrast to others, I sincerely do not mind the fact that different technology is in place to have access to the types of purchases, ads and products I may view online. After all, I am not taking time out of my life to look at ads and products for leisure. It is most likely because I’m interested in buying a product. Business is business.  Therefore, if a program wants to compile a list of my interests and flag products that are new, on sale or for a decently good price that I otherwise could have missed…I am all for that.

The question still remains of just how much organizations (and individuals in general) can or cannot see online. It is obvious that credit card information as well as personal documents and records are relatively well protected. This is evident by the fact that companies employ fraud services and investigators to ensure a problem never occurs.

The problem I think that remains is the abuse of power. Just when is enough declared to be enough? Anyone who is declaring a personal vendetta against some sort of state official via their social media deserves to be investigated by the NSA and stopped before they commit any disturbing act.

It is when the rights of privacy and free speech that pose no threat to society are violated that I have a problem with. In the words of the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau (granted for another reason), “There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”.  Put simply, people are to be who they want to be. There is no excuse for interrupting the peaceful life of a citizen and their sense of privacy online for reasons abusing power. Whistleblowers, protestors, lobbyists and citizens alike have recognized it. I take great appreciation in those who stand for this cause, as if it hasn’t already, it will one day soon come to affect every single citizen on the planet.




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