Is privacy an illusion?

BY Julie Douglas / POSTED April 20, 2011
man camping Nothing like the great outdoors for a little privacy

Oddly, the day after Robert and I recoded the podcast, “Is privacy an illusion*?” I saw this headline on NY Times, “How to Fix (or Kill) Web Data About You.” It’s not woo-woo odd, mind you, just timely odd since it discusses the various ways that you can follow your online data trail and scrub it free of past transgressions (or at least try).

In the podcast we discuss the fact that we’re all so eager to streamline our lives through the convenience of technology that most of us think nothing of sharing our most personal data.  Think about all of the pieces of information you’ve floated into a data stream — from the crappy album review you left on Amazon and your Peru vacation pics on Flickr to online results of your IQ — and then think about stitching together every iota of information to form a composite of yourself. What sort of picture would it paint?

What could go wrong with a seemingly endless stream of data about ourselves that we’ve given of our own volition?

Turns out that Google CEO Eric Schmidt “predicts that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends’ social media sites,” according to this Wall Street Journal article.

That got us thinking about how and when we lost our privacy virginity in the first place. And is it weird that a telecommunications company in Germany collected more than 35,000 longitude and latitude coordinates during a six-month period on one ordinary citizen?

In this podcast we’ll discuss what it means to be a private person in the age of information, and we’ll also take a look at what’s in store for us in the future when it comes to data mining. Hint: It could very well redefine the way we think about free will.

We also read longtime listener, Oscar’s, e-mail about his thoughts on privacy. Oscar sent us a thought-provoking missive on the subject and is responsible for the dustup in our minds on this one. So a special thanks to Oscar for the cognitive Scooby snack.

*For anyone wondering if the use of “illusion” was an homage to Doug Henning, you win the Spot Doug Henning Homage prize.**

**To claim your prize, send us your social security number, a recent copy of your fingerprints, your home address and your mother’s maiden name as well as your first pet’s name, date of birth, copy of passport, hair sample and a lucky rabbit’s foot keychain.


About the author: Julie Douglas is a podcaster, writer and editor at HowStuffWorks and a sometimes phlebotomist and pyrotechnician, not to mention a fabulist of bios and the co-host of the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast.

 

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