essays / Privacy in the Information Age

The Information Age has undermined privacy and individuality in thoughts. From contextual advertisements to comprehensive background checks and expansive personal profiles, privacy is being slowly removed as a right and replaced with control. Information taken from unsuspecting people takes away the freedom and privacy of a person, both unknown or known information, is used for advertising, trade, and intelligence.

Privacy, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “The state or condition of being alone, undisturbed, or free from public attention, as a matter of choice or right; seclusion; freedom from interference or intrusion.” The Information Age promotes sharing information to everyone constantly. The sharing adds into noise to the clamor of low-quality personal information online. When everyone attempts to stand out by putting their life online as an exhibit, everyone becomes the same. People are spurred into exhibiting themselves when easy it is easy and when constantly pressured to be accepted and popular. When personal opinions, writings, and thoughts are publicized for this reason, they are more likely to be less authentic and opinionated, but instead what others want to see. People should be able to reserve the right to be individual and free to limit their given audience, in other words, to have privacy. Privacy has been expected, but with the Internet and the new generation, privacy is only a concern of fear, not of freedom. Privacy, in terms of freedom, has been disregarded. With the loss of the original privacy that the United States was founded upon, people are less authentic and become fake lookalikes to appeal to peers and advertisers, less spiritual, less willing to explore intriguing ideas, and easier to manipulate.

When someone decides to go to the mall, they know that people and surveillance cameras are watching them. They are aware of the surveillance and will act accordingly, for good reason. However, when talking on the phone or emailing, there is expected privacy. On Facebook, sometimes privacy is expected, but, realistically, there is very little true privacy. For instance, most of the photo albums on Facebook are public, all page views and actions are logged, and nothing is really deleted. The same occurs when web pages are viewed or the Internet is searched. Where privacy is expected online, it often is nonexistent. When there is little or no privacy in electronic communication, and electronic communication is the primary form of communication and exhibition, there are fewer opinions expressed and less freedom of speech in fear of hurting someone or losing the acceptance of peers. The pressure to put on a fake mask of what culture expects often overbears in these situations. For instance, social networks encourage you to share all your photos and diary to someone even if you barely know them. Practically, it can be equated to giving anyone you meet, your next door neighbor, school friends, or your best friend your entire journal. Before the Internet, sharing extraneous information was frowned upon, but now it is commonplace.

The natural progression to the invasion of privacy has a “big brother” effect. When privacy is lost, individuality and responsibility for ones actions is lost also. For instance, in China, where the people are tightly controlled by the government, people are watched and controlled by fear. The United States is allowing the start of this control, even to the start of the cultural revolution of exhibition. Currently, a large amount of private information is given away in the pretext of contextual advertising, advertising that targets what you are viewing or what you search in order to get more clicks. Companies and governments sell and trade information, legally and illegally, as another commodity. With information about you advertisers can sell more, governments can investigate further, and reporters can pry more. Sometimes this information is released intentionally, but usually it is released unintentionally or taken. If this trend continues, the government, schools, and advertisers will have more control than ever on information about you, to the point of a “big brother” influence outlined in 1984. Even when further privacy is sought or thoughtful questions asked, the questioning is often stopped at a young age by the schools.

If these developments from embracing the Information Age are not in your best interests, then attempt to fight the current progression. The further change away from the United States to a 1984-like state change will not happen overnight, just as the loss of privacy has not occurred overnight, but instead it will gradually grow and eventually overcome. There are technical and practical everyday ways to fight the invasion of privacy. For instance, before doing something online, think of the implications and then reconsider. Computers do not forget like humans, they are cold, loveless machines of logic. They will not forgive or understand; they only do what is asked of them, much like the brainwashed workers of 1984. Sacrifices will need to be made to stop this advancement, such as critical thinking and going against trends. The United States is founded on the ideas of freedom and individuality. However, recent attempts to remove these freedoms for profit, “open expression”, and attention are undermining these fundamental founding principles of the United States across the world.