Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

What Happened to Privacy?

social media

No longer do you have to consciously tell your online social network what you like or what you’re up to, because new “augmented reality” devices are automatically collecting audio, video and locational data, and using image analysis to automatically work out what you’re doing, when, where and with whom.

By Stephen Wilson

What we search, browse, like, friend, tag, tweet and buy enables Big Data to automatically work out what we’re doing, when, where and with whom. Is privacy already dead, and should we care?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The cover of Newsweek on 27 July 1970 featured a cartoon couple cowered by computer and communications technology, with the urgent all-caps headline “IS PRIVACY DEAD?” Four decades on, Newsweek is dead but we’re still asking the same question.

Privacy is traditionally thought to be so central to the human condition that it’s enshrined in Article 12 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet every generation or so, our notions of privacy are challenged by a new technology. In the 1880s it was photography and telegraphy; in the 1970s it was computing and consumer electronics. And now it’s the internet, a revolution that has virtually everyone connected to everyone else (and soon everything) everywhere – and all of the time.

Some of the world’s biggest corporations now operate with just one asset – information – and a vigorous “publicness” movement rallies around the purported liberation of shedding what are said to be old-fashioned inhibitions. Online social networking, e-health, crowdsourcing and new digital economies appear to have shifted some of our societal fundamentals.

However, the past decade has seen a dramatic expansion of countries legislating data protection laws in response to citizens’ insistence that their privacy is as precious as ever. And modern information technologies bring, through cryptography, the promise...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.