Trading-in Privacy for the Greater Good


Privacy. The meaning of word is changing almost as quickly as the internet is changing the way we live and work. To my parent’s generation, it meant garden fences on a quiet street. The version of privacy in the online arena is a foreign concept to them. The amount of information their children make available on the internet induces extreme queasiness.

A younger generation, growing up in the age of the internet, exhibits behaviour from an unfamiliar end of the privacy spectrum – many times without understanding the risks. As the social web blooms, the transmission of not only personal details, such as minute by minute thought updates, geo-location information and even credit card purchases become easier and faster than ever to share. As this kind of personal information moves to the web, so do the risks to this information’s safety. An older generation, feeling comfortable with the traditional concept of privacy, cringes at each new attempt Facebook makes to grow the reach of their personal information. The younger generation monitors these stories with the same interest as the local weather report knowing the risks are a part of being connected.

Despite the risks though, there is a benefit to trading-in our privacy. It comes in the form of aggregate data. By knowing how and where to share information we can influence change, save time, money and improve relationships. For example, sharing physical location in traffic can contribute to a smoother commute. Or by having the options of finding out where someone enjoyed dinner or did not enjoy a movie will improve your next outing. These examples may seem trivial but the concept applies globally. Sharing data, anonymously or otherwise, provides us with a powerful platform for change.

Facebook moderates our conversations, Foresquare and Gowalla track our activities, Twitter broadcasts our smallest thoughts, this information is sorted, shared, and turned into a complex web of data that is used by others to make informed decisions. The privacy we choose to disclose is traded-in for access to better experiences and useful knowledge. The level of knowledge available to each other is arguably directly proportional to the level of privacy we choose to keep.

I am quick to agree that giving up a certain level of privacy is a frightening proposition. Although privacy, the way it used to be known and loved, no longer seems to be an option as our relationships and jobs demand our online participation. Managing risk has become the new privacy.

Is privacy worth the risk that comes with trading it in? Perhaps our only choice is to find out.