Privacy – what does that mean?

During the course of one of my travels i chanced upon a conversation with a fellow traveller. Such conversations are rare these days, considering the fact that trust to share thoughts with strangers is reaching an all time low. Many times we hear small children being advised not to talk with strangers and importantly not receive any food from them. Surprisingly, most grown-ups behave that way. Sounds amusing! I felt so when i actually ended up catching up with this co-passenger with whom i shared the journey. Though the exchange between us remained around our work and our opinions around general environmental happenings – this led me to think further on this aspect of talking with strangers.

With over 4 billion mobile phone users, 800 million Facebook users, 70 million bloggers, 500 million twitter users (all approximate figures) – and all of these numbers growing at many times the interest rates in India, so much information is being shared on the web. Once upon a time information was scarce and accessibility was power. Almost all of us who grew up during the 80’s and 90’s in India would have seen people make money out of the simple accessibility to information. Many such businesses are disappearing (not surprisingly) as more and more information becomes available online. Thanks to search engines like Google, all it takes to reach information is only a worthy search.

Opportunities: With the volume of data being captured by automated systems across the world increasing – many entrepreneurs are beginning to look at trying to mine intelligent information out of the heaps (mountains) of data. While the utility of the information being gathered is unlimited, it requires a lot more effort from people to make intelligent use of it. While large organizations claim to provide a better experience by analyzing your history of purchases and behaviors, it is also becoming annoying when someone always prompts what you would buy. The thrill of shopping could also come down – isn’t it? While we debate on where we should draw the line of supporting and stop intruding into the personal lives of people – the opportunities that lie in front of enterprising entrepreneurs is simply amazing. There is space for a whole lot of people to tap into this abundance of data and find useful information which can help governments govern better, help law enforcement agencies to nip crimes in the bud, help companies service customers better and even help people handle their lives better by suggesting intelligent ways of re-organizing activities.

Threats: Yes! As stated above, drawing the line has to happen. How people use information and what they do with it should be within the realm of appropriate behavior and without intrusion into personal lives. A simple way is to check if this piece of information was yours’ or your family member’s, would you still do what you are doing with it. The decision is simple and straight. But for this, values should be inculcated in the minds early (as early as school). Once this is done, we can actually have a transparent society which knows its limits and therefore create a peaceful environment. Hope this will not remain an utopian dream!

While there are voices shouting about privacy and many policies and laws being enacted as we encounter crimes, this can only be a catching up game. It is important that instead of trying to weed out all wrong possibilities (we must, but in parallel), we must also attempt to look at aggressive propagation of good and rational behavior. This is important as otherwise, it may become more difficult to control an already uncontrollable, fast paced society.

Coming back to conversations with strangers – we may think that we are quite careful by not involving in conversations with strangers who we meet, but the sad part is, strangers who we have not met at all actually know more than you can share on a single journey. No, i am not suggesting that we should converse more (by many standards, we are already a noisy society), but we should be more careful about conversing with inanimate objects like the computer!

Happy Browsing and Happy Conversing!


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