Have you ever used Google to search for your own name? If you haven't, I suggest you give it a try: The results may surprise you. Google probably knows more about you than you'd assume. And, although Google receives a hefty share of criticism for its policies regarding private information, it's far from the only culprit. Facebook also compiles massive amounts of user information every day, and users of both online services are increasingly concerned. What exactly are these companies doing with all this data? More importantly, what could they do with it in the future?
Luckily, we've got a team of tech experts who tackle these sorts of questions for a living. TechStuff podcasters Chris Pollette and Jonathan Strickland have a great episode on the subject of online privacy. Check it out: They're pretty funny, and they've got loads of good advice.
But privacy online is not the same thing as privacy in general, and threats to personal privacy are not restricted to targeted ads on the side of your Facebook wall.
Consider the United Kingdom. According to the BBC, the UK has more surveillance cameras (meaning CCTVs, or closed-circuit television cameras) per person than any other country. If you're the average city dweller in the UK, you can expect to show up on camera about once every five minutes. (If you'd like more CCTV statistics, check out this link.) To some people, this preponderance of cameras violates an individual's reasonable expectations of day-to-day privacy. Yet supporters argue that CCTV systems provide greater security and help law enforcement hunt down criminals more effectively. The implication here is a little troubling: If you're not doing anything wrong, then why are you worried?
Good question. The growing threats to personal privacy aren't restricted to internet cookies and UK cameras. The emergence of biometric technology will also affect individual privacy, and the United States just extended provisions of the controversial Patriot Act. Originally created to combat terrorism in the wake of the attacks on September 11th, 2001, the Patriot Act is still in effect today, and even some senators are worried about how much power this gives intelligence-gathering agencies.
With all this in mind, it seems the incredible convenience of modern technology is also making it incredibly convenient to spy on people -- and not just one or two criminals, but entire populations. Will this trend continue in the future?
Is it possible that privacy, as we understand it, may become obsolete? Take a look at this PSA about targeted advertising from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and let us know what you think about privacy in the future.