Living in the Open

Living in the Open

Ronald Tetreault, Dalhousie University:

Abstract / Résumé

An open society is a cherished liberal ideal, but one necessarily limited by a need for privacy. When Louis Brandeis first formulated "the right to privacy" in 1890, it was in response to advances in the technology of photography and the growth of the tabloid press. Today once again new technologies threaten privacy. Real concerns exist about the security of digital data, especially as it affects our personal identity. Furthermore, the development of Web 2.0 and the growth of social media allow ordinary people to collaborate and share information on an unprecedented scale. On the positive side, these digital technologies have given rise to citizen journalism that calls authority to account. At the same time our media-saturated climate has created a "panoptic" society, and encouraged a penchant for validation through self-exposure. This culture of hypervisibility in confluence with a generation that has grown up "digitally native" reveals the paradoxes of living life in the open.

Une société ouverte est un idéal libéral précieux, mais qui est nécessairement limité par le besoin du respect de la vie privée. Lorsque Louis Brandeis a formulé pour la première fois "le droit à la vie privée" en 1890, c’était en réponse aux progrès de la technologie de la photographie et à la croissance de la presse populaire. Aujourd’hui, encore une fois, les nouvelles technologies menacent la vie privée. Des préoccupations réelles existent au sujet de la sécurité des données numériques, en particulier, lorsqu’elles touchent notre identité personnelle. De plus, le développement du Web 2.0 et la poussée des médias sociaux permettent aux gens ordinaires de collaborer et de partager de l’information d’une ampleur sans précédent. D’un côté positif, ces technologies numériques ont donné lieu au journalisme des citoyens qui exige des autorités qu’elles rendent des comptes. Par la même occasion, notre climat saturé par les médias a créé une société "panoptique," et encouragé un penchant vers la validation par l’auto-exposition. Cette culture d’hypervisibilité, confluant avec une génération "native du numérique," révèle les paradoxes de la vie dévoilée au grand jour.


Privacy, surveillance, security of digital information, social media, panopticon, culture of visibility, hypervisibility


Openness is one of the most cherished ideals of liberal democracy. J. S. Mill believed that keeping "[the] mind open to criticism" was essential to freedom of thought and discussion (1998, 25); and Popper valued an open society because it "sets free the critical powers of man" (1962, 1). Any constraint on the free exchange of thought, debate, and information has for so long been regarded as inimical to justice and good government that occasional insistence on privacy has come to seem almost anti-social. After all, unless you are guilty of something, you should have nothing to hide. However, since no right is absolute and each claim to a right is limited by competing rights, the imperative of openness has for some time existed in delicate balance with our right to privacy. But now privacy seems to be under threat. Real concerns exist about the security of digital information; furthermore, in our media-intensive environment the desirability of "transparency" runs the risks of "over-sharing." The rise of a culture of heightened visibility (Cavallaro 2000, 86), driven by wave after wave of innovation in technology, and their confluence with a generation that has grown up "digitally native" (Prensky 2011, 4) has begun to reveal to us to the paradoxes of living life in the open.

Fifteen years ago, when my US colleague Bruce Graver and I first conceived of the Electronic Lyrical Ballads project (Tetreault and Graver 2003), the goal of providing open access to rare editions seemed to us an entirely unmixed blessing. Some librarians, of course, were concerned that digitising precious books in their keeping could possibly damage them, or might compromise funding for their collections if scholars preferred to consult them online rather than actually visiting their facilities. However, it would prove that digital imaging technology and improved practices in handling the volumes to be photographed resulted in minimal wear-and-tear. Furthermore, making digital images of books would come to be seen as a contribution to their preservation. And, far from cheapening the value of library collections, online dissemination of their holdings gave an exposure to the richness of their collections that helped attract visiting scholars, and could even be leveraged to impress budgetary administrators.

Bruce Graver made the initial transcriptions of the texts at Princeton's Firestone Library, but it was thanks to the generosity and vision of Gene Bridwell, then Special Collections Librarian at Simon Fraser University, that it was possible to complete the project. Gene welcomed me to the Bennett Library at Simon Fraser on numerous occasions, and understood immediately the benefits both to scholarly inquiry and to his institution that this project offered. Holdings there consisted of all the lifetime editions of Lyrical Ballads, all in one place. With the actual volumes before me, I was therefore able to compare and correct where necessary Bruce's transcriptions. In collaboration with Gene, a digital image of every page of every one of these volumes was made right there, drawing on the facilities of the Simon Fraser photographic services. The images were then transmitted to me, and with the indispensable assistance of Vivien Hannon of the Electronic Text Centre at Dalhousie University, they were coordinated with the online texts. It was Vivien who devised the side-by-side presentation of the images and the texts, and who created perl-scripts to make it all run seamlessly. We all owe her our deepest gratitude for her technical expertise and untiring efforts. At the same time, the project would never have taken the shape it did (and would never have become accessible on the web for free) without Gene Bridwell's unwavering commitment to openness.

"Information wants to be free" is a time-worn slogan that expresses the heady ethos of those early days (Brand 1987, 202). Their product is today's open-access world of scholarly learning and online journals and publications, but also the world of peer-to-peer file sharing, of celebrity culture and political scandal, and of social networking. The brave new world of the Internet has come to look rather different by now. Today we live in an environment inundated with information, and wittingly or unwittingly we add to it by giving away information about ourselves with every keystroke. The collaborative, user-centered interactivity of the so-called Web 2.0 makes the sharing of information a way of life. From blogs and wikis to Facebook and YouTube, we interact in ways we never thought possible even a few years ago. More and more we are living life in the open.

With a prescience we can only continue to admire, Marshall McLuhan cautioned us that "...any technology gradually creates a totally new human environment" (1964, viii) accompanied by its own unique "stresses" (1964, 166). McLuhan, with characteristic verbal playfulness, I think, uses the word "stress" in Understanding Media polysemously, often to mean "emphasis" but sometimes (and more importantly) in the sense of "anxiety." The print medium led to a stress on individualism, in his opinion, just as film lays its stress on the visual. But McLuhan strikes a note of caution when he speaks of the "stress" any new medium gives rise to in its participants. Now, at least one source of stress in the digital environment comes from the changes the new media is causing in social norms. Attitudes and norms are constantly evolving, of course, and what was considered normal behaviour by our parents evaporated for my generation with a puff of marijuana smoke. Our drug of choice today, of which we are aptly called "users," is Information Technology, and it is having an impact on norms that we are only beginning to fully appreciate. There have long been fears that powerful technologies could endanger our freedom as individuals; but now that information is not only harvested but can circulate so freely, there are fears that the liberal ideal most endangered is our claim to privacy (O'Hara and Shadbolt 2008, viii). Increasingly our lives in the "global village" are less private and more open to scrutiny, in the form of data-collection, a bias toward transparency, and even practices of willful self-exposure.

The very notion that we have a "right to privacy" originated in the late nineteenth century, and was in fact prompted even back then by the intersection of media and new technologies. At the end of the year 1890, Samuel D. Warren and Louis Brandeis published their seminal paper on "The Right to Privacy" in the Harvard Law Review. In it they proclaimed that recent inventions and new business methods had made it necessary to protect individuals by establishing a right "to be let alone." They especially had in mind the confluence of advances in photography and its use by what we would call the tabloid press:

Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that "what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops." For years there has been a feeling that the law must afford some remedy for the unauthorized circulation of portraits of private persons; and the evil of the invasion of privacy by the newspapers [has been] long keenly felt... (Warren and Brandeis 1890, 195)

The Eastman Kodak Company had introduced its new snap camera in 1884, reducing the size of bulky photographic equipment to make it more portable and less expensive. Now photographic subjects no longer had to hold rigid poses, images of ordinary people going about their business became plentiful, and politicians could be captured in unguarded moments (Solove 2008, 15). And along with these developments there arose a need to re-think fundamental human rights.

Any claims we may make to privacy, then, are historically conditioned and in no way absolute or inviolable. Indeed, there is reason to think that the right to privacy (as it entered recent history) is a rather genteel notion that is class-inflected and became wide-spread only as the middle classes gained the economic resources to build larger homes. Social historian Lawrence Stone claims that among the English in the 1500s "privacy, like individualism, was neither possible nor desired." He continues:

The poor lived in one- or two-room houses where one person could never be alone. Among the middle ranks, servants—children of other families—were everywhere, rooms were few and non-specialized in function and bedrooms and even beds were often shared. (1977, 6)

In those times, neither private life nor individual autonomy seems to have been much prized. They only became values of importance with the rise of what Stone calls "the growth of affective individualism" in subsequent centuries.

Concerns about the invasion of privacy became pressing once more in the 1970s and 80s under the impact of information technology and its concentration in the hands of governments and large corporations. The US Protection of Privacy Act, introduced in 1974, was designed only to regulate wire-tapping, but it is significant because it was the first federal statutory recognition of the right to privacy. Soon, however, the accumulation of personal information in large databases and the ability to inter-relate them rapidly in administrative information systems led to fears over the emergence of a "surveillance society," soon followed by demands for improved data control and the protection of individual privacy. Income tax returns could be used against you, health records and personal medical histories could be leaked to insurance companies, and credit card transactions could track your every move. For the first time, fears of what would come to be called "data liquidity" began to grow, as people realised that electronic information gathered in one case could be re-purposed and applied to another.

It was 1977 when the Office of the Privacy Commissioner was founded in Canada. The Privacy Commissioner was given the authority to investigate complaints filed by Canadian citizens, and report on whether there has been a violation of information privacy. Under the Canadian Privacy Act of 1982, the Commissioner need not rely solely on complaints from individuals, but is entitled to launch investigations independently. Meanwhile, Americans still have to rely solely on the courts to enforce their rights under the Privacy Act. Under new legislation in 1988, the Government of Canada prohibited the collection and use of our Social Insurance Numbers for any administrative purpose without Parliament's express authority. In the words of one commentator on these events:

The Canadian government's action to limit and control the use of unique personal identifiers is almost without precedent internationally as an effort to cut back on surveillance of the public. The privacy commissioner hailed the event as "an effective step in preventing governments from assembling profiles of citizens." (Flaherty 1989, 283-284)

This was a time when Orwellian warnings about an ever-watchful "Big Brother" predominated in our thinking about privacy. Later on, as loyalty cards became a common way to track consumer behaviour, we gradually came to realise that every time we claimed our AirMiles a data trail was left behind. Government agencies were not the only ones that were watching us.

The integration of computer networks and closed-circuit camera technology has screwed up our anxieties over being watched another notch. CCTV is currently used in London to monitor vehicle access to the center of the city. Images of each license plate are recorded, and those without special permits are hit with a "congestion charge" every time they enter this controlled perimeter. It must be admitted that the institution of this Congestion Zone has had a remarkable impact on traffic in Central London, where it has become possible to travel by taxi practically without delay. What is more insidious, however, is the proliferation of CCTV cameras there to monitor the behaviour of citizens on the streets. While local governments have installed over 30,000 CCTV cameras in an effort to crack down on crime, there are exponentially more such cameras posted by private security firms, as well as small businesses (and especially pubs), to curb petty theft and rowdiness. It is estimated that there are between 1.85 million and 4 million CCTV cameras in Britain keeping a watchful eye, and that over ninety percent of these are operated by private businesses (Reeve 2011). In North America, there had been considerable resistance to the installation of CCTV cameras in public spaces. However, the use of concealed cameras to monitor employees is becoming a major problem. Web-cams and nanny cams have become common-place. AARtech Canada of Toronto promotes their products on their website in this way:

Nanny cameras are well suited to provide video evidence of thefts or abuse in home or business settings. Nanny cams can be used to make sure your children or elderly family members are being properly treated. A Nanny cam can also be used in a business setting to fight against employee theft. (AARtech Canada 2012)

Nanny cams are legal in all 50 states in the US, and evidence provided by them has helped convict abusers in numerous recent cases. However, in the highly-publicised trial of Dharun Ravi for using a web-cam to spy on his college roommate's gay sexual encounters, the Rutgers student was found guilty of invasion of privacy. Still, his sentence of thirty days and three hundred hours of community service was considered light by some (ABC 2012).

Where in the recent past we worried most about invasion of privacy by government and business, today we worry less about "Big Brother" and more about new forms of peer-to-peer spying by ordinary people (with all their faults) who are in command of powerful technologies. These "little brothers" and their escapades have heightened fears about "the end of privacy" in a world where aspects of our lives are increasingly visible to others. Dutch ethicist Beate Rössler has brought attention to the shifting values we attach to privacy in what she chillingly calls "a panoptic society" (2005, 120). Bentham's panopticon project was meant to enforce discipline by imposing the fear that one could be watched at any time; in this way, prison-wardens could gain control over the very consciousness (and not merely the bodies) of those they watched. Indeed Bentham thought the fear induced was sufficient to make the watched their own jailers, for they could never know at which moment they were being observed and when not. Foucault takes the panopticon as a metaphor for the way social institutions discipline their participants, by conditioning their subjectivity. Today the panopticon metaphor is being stretched even further, from institutions to other persons and our whole society, so that it expresses a condition that is levelled-out and all-pervasive. According to Rössler, in such a world where everyone is watching everyone else, what is at stake is individual autonomy and the freedom to retain control over one's own self-presentation (Rössler 2005, 121).

It is precisely this loss of control over one's self-image that is so insidious in cases of online bullying. If, as Rössler says, "a person is autonomous if she can ask herself the question what sort of person she wants to be" (2005, 17), then what is really at stake in the loss of privacy is the freedom to choose your own identity. When others seek to impose an identity on you, it is this fundamental freedom to be yourself that is threatened by practices of bullying and sexual harassment. And the reach of these practices have been greatly multiplied by the increase in personal digital media. Every community, it seems, has a tragic instance to mourn of someone who committed suicide after being maligned online, especially over social networks. A report last fall in the New York Times gives some idea of the dimensions of the problem. It said that:

Over all, 48 percent of [high-school] students surveyed said they were harassed during the 2010-11 school year. Forty-four percent of students said they were harassed "in person" — being subjected to unwelcome comments or jokes, inappropriate touching or sexual intimidation — and 30 percent reported online harassment, like receiving unwelcome comments, jokes or pictures through texts, e-mail, Facebook and other tools, or having sexual rumors, information or pictures spread about them. (Anderson 2011)

Indeed, what we have come to call "cyber-bullying" became the central focus of the infamous Rutgers case, partly because the perpetrator drew attention to his roommate's homosexual activity (and his spy-video of it) over his Twitter-feed, and even more because his victim, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide a few days after. Though it must be allowed that "other contributing factors, from depression to family life to the ending of a relationship" must be taken into consideration in these cases, as Katherine Bindley argues, she does have to admit that "even though suicides often prove to involve multiple factors, most experts are still quick to add that bullying can aggravate depression and increase suicide risk, and its seriousness shouldn't be minimized" (Bindley 2012). Bullying that used to be confined to the schoolyard and end with the school day has now become inescapable and relentless as a result of round-the-clock online posts and an endless exchange of text messages. The damage to one's self-esteem has been hugely intensified by the degree to which it has been enabled by powerful personal digital technologies in the hands of the wrong people.

However, it needs to be said, and said clearly, that while these new technologies bear risks, they also bring with them tremendous benefits. Today, when everyone who has a cell-phone has a camera and can exchange messages and images with ease and rapidity, the Watchers are becoming the Watched. The growth of "citizen-journalism" supplied enormous energy to the recent "Occupy Wall Street" movement. A blog started by a New York activist invited people to submit their stories along with a photo of themselves holding up a sign that declared "We are the 99%."Mother Jones identified the blogger and documented his success:

On September 8, the first day he started publishing submissions, there were five posts. Less than a month later, the blog was posting nearly 100 pieces a day: from the 61-year-old who lost her job and moved in with her kids, to the husband of a college professor on ... Medicaid to support an infant daughter, to the fiftysomething couple living on tossed-out KFC, to a bevy of youths pummeled by student debt and too poor to visit a dentist. (Weinstein 2011)

Notable in another way were the student-journalists at UC Davis who took camera-phone video of campus security using pepper spray in an attempt to disperse the Occupy protesters there. The police chief was forced to resign after the video and accompanying reports went viral on the Internet. But perhaps the most significant of all was the way personal digital technologies and social networking played a role in the Arab Spring protests of 2011. Handheld video, blogs, and text messages sent by phone and over Twitter and Facebook exposed the brutality of the Egyptian authorities and gave solidarity to the protesters in Tahrir Square (Srinivasan 2012). Subsequently, when the uprising spread to Syria, the authorities there cracked down severely on electronic communications and took to the Internet themselves to counter the protesters' claims. As the civil war there worsens and brings further chaos, a respected blogger at The Huffington Post now warns that "social media are proving to be valuable tools for terrorist groups' internal communication and for reaching larger audiences around the world" (Selb 2014).

McLuhan long ago foresaw the way new media would change the relationship between the governed and their governors:

Slower speeds of information make delegation and representation mandatory... As the speed of information increases, the tendency is for politics to move away from representation and delegation of constituents toward immediate involvement of the entire community in the central acts of decision. (1964, 182)

Preferring a more participatory democracy (and even disruptive anarchy), citizens in the age of electronic media are less and less willing to delegate authority to governments and leaders. In consequence of this growing distrust in their representatives, people now demand transparency and accountability from officials. Wikileaks and the activities of Julian Assange may be regarded as only one example of these expectations. The revelation of closely guarded state secrets may discredit or even overthrow a tyrannous regime. But snooping on the communications exchanged between diplomats might make their tasks impossible and hamper their negotiations. This might all lead to a salutary change in the way we conduct international affairs; however, it might just as easily result in even greater measures for secrecy on the part of governments and disturbingly more draconian measures against whistle-blowers.

A more clearly positive example of how exposure through personal digital media can promote social change is the development of a network called "HarassMap." A survey taken in 2008 found that eighty-three percent of Egyptian women had experienced sexual assault, attacks which turned into a common tactic of intimidation during the later political demonstrations. One woman found a way to turn the tables. With the help of a grant from the International Development Research Centre of Canada, Rebecca Chiao is marshalling online tools to expose incidents of sexual violence through social media (see links to her project at and Reporting on this initiative, international activists Craig and Marc Kielburger (founders of the Free the Children movement) indicate that it has inspired as many as 11,000 other similar programs worldwide that apply crowdsource solutions to social problems ranging from petrochemical spills to citizen reports that tackle crime and corruption in India. They welcome the result: "From Cairo to Mumbai to Port-au-Prince, social media is increasing the power of ordinary people to take on the big problems of our world and create positive change" (Kielburger and Kielburger 2013).

On a less noble plane, citizen journalism can have an equivocal impact. In the past few years, the rigors of transparency have been rather keenly felt by certain high-profile public figures. A small but telling example is the lesson learned by New York Jets football coach Rex Ryan when he was caught on cellphone video cursing out a fan. The fan yells that the rival team's coach is better, and Ryan responds with what in the past would have been regarded as a perfectly normal locker-room obscenity. However, the video was quickly posted on YouTube, to the embarrassment of the league commissioner and even more to Rex Ryan's cost. The commissioner fined him $75,000, but far from objecting to any invasion of privacy Ryan quickly paid up. "I'm an NFL lifer [said Ryan], and I know I represent the NFL and represent the Jets, so I'm accountable for my actions and I will not appeal it" (Cimini 2011). It looks like Ryan, for one, has come to terms with living in a panoptic society.

An even more comic example is what happened to Anthony Weiner, now a former US Congressional Representative from New York (and not coincidentally a former mayoral candidate). Congressman Weiner was caught sexting when he sent out buff photos of himself, clad only in his undershorts, to certain ladies not his wife (who apparently was pregnant at the time!). The only problem was that he inadvertently sent them by way of his Twitter account at the same time, so that all his 45,000 followers got an eyeful ( 2012). Naturally, some of them claimed to be scandalised by his "lewd" behaviour, the photos went viral on the Internet, and Mr. Wiener was forced to resign. That he at first tried to deny sending the photos, claiming his Twitter account had been hacked, only added to the circus by showing how out of touch he was.

Living in the open manifests a phenomenon of much greater gravity however, when we consider the trend to willing and even deliberate self-exposure in today's media-saturated climate. Kim Kardashian lives in the open, but in a tightly controlled and probably very purposeful way. Reality TV is of course thoroughly story-boarded and highly edited to create some sort of narrative, but it nevertheless represents the way the line between public display and private life is being blurred in our culture. Perhaps it is not so much a narrative as an image that Reality TV tries to create, an image that producers and advertisers cynically advance as "aspirational." Kardashian shares with us not so much a life as a life-style, with the goal of branding herself and selling her lines of cosmetic and fashion products. An offshoot of this advertising strategy is the way corporations and businesses have colonised social networks. No company can consider itself hip today without a Facebook presence. A whole new branch of marketing science is now devoted to finding ways to get users to "like" a product or service by clicking that blue button. And this of course is over and above the way Facebook depends for its revenues on harvesting data about its users, which the users willingly supply, concerning their demographics, education, favourite things, and circle of friends. This growing practice of openness has led ethical futurist Jamais Cascio to dub the world in which we willingly expose our private selves in the public forums of the Internet a "participatory panoption" (2005).

A disposition to embrace the participatory panopticon seems particularly widespread among the young digitally-native demographic. Beginning with the camera, and progressing rapidly through movies, television, and social networks, we have become immersed not merely in a visual culture but in a culture of visibility. In such an environment the self is actualised by being seen; not to be visible in some reasonably pervasive way is a threat to existence, or at best to exist in some deficient way. "What does the contemporary self want?" asks essayist William Deresiewicz:

The camera has created a culture of celebrity; the computer is creating a culture of connectivity. As the two technologies converge... the two cultures betray a common impulse. Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected. It wants to be visible... This is the quality that validates us; this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others. (2011, 307-308)

Real life, our everyday life lived in the privacy of home or office, is perceived as inadequate next to the lives of celebrities who thrive in a climate of constant visibility. As a ready means toward self-actualisation, many pursue the benefits of exposure and connectivity that social networks promise. Via Facebook and YouTube, via Twitter and blogs and Instagram, we can all achieve a sort of micro-celebrity — we can be known and seen, and thereby enjoy validation under the observation of others. And some can even win big-time fame in the manner of Justin Bieber! Amply enhanced by technologies of hypervisibility, "the power and invasiveness of celebrity culture" governs the socialisation of our youth, according to Chris Hedges' diagnosis in Empire of Illusion (2009, 16; 40).

One response to the culture of visibility is to confess and admit that engagement in it obliges us to become more conscious of image-building. Companies and advertisers have certainly realised this, and now individuals must take into account the way they appear on social networks. One blogger asks us to consider how we can use Facebook for "personal branding" and offers 10 tips for success. This advisor says:

Facebook has grown rapidly and... has become a perfect platform for B2C (business to consumer) marketing, providing very targeted advertising opportunities based on user's likes and associations. Facebook is slowly moving towards a more professional and more career-oriented service. They have recently introduced changes to personal profiles, giving more space to work and education information. Employers have checked applicants on Facebook for years, and most people Google you before meetings and your Facebook profile is likely to come up in searches. The way people use Facebook is different to that of two years ago. As you get friend requests from colleagues, customers and managers it's no longer strictly that social network. This means there is a case for branding oneself on Facebook... (Sundberg 2012)

Living in the open means that we run enormous risks if we do not exercise control over our own self-image and self-presentation in the participatory panopticon. This obligation, along with an insight into the deeper implications of social networking, is driven home by Erin Biba who writes as follows in Wired Magazine:

Every time you post something on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or Instagram, you're influencing—or trying to influence—how the world views you. Each carefully crafted 140-character message that goes out into the metaverse fills a publicly accessible database that defines you to people you've never met. In the end, it isn't who you really are. It's the hilarious, adorable, fascinating, intelligent, so-worth-Friending version of you. Social media isn't about having a conversation with people you know. It's about advertising yourself. It's not social; it's media. (2011)

While the benefit of privacy is that it gives us autonomy and control over our self-presentation, the self-exposure that comes with living in the open means that we must become more self-aware about how we appear to others. And maybe that will be a good thing, if it teaches us to have more empathy with our fellow beings on this planet.

The darker side of sharing details of our personal life on social networks, however, is the difficulty of knowing the larger, long-term consequences of our openness. As law professor Lori Andrews explains:

Social networks turn people's private information into the networks' own income streams. Facebook makes most of its money as an advertising platform. Facebook sells ad space on its site and helps advertisers personalize their advertisements and direct them toward specific members by using the information from the Facebook member's profile and entries... eMarketer estimated that Facebook earned $1.86 billion in advertising revenue in 2010. (2011, 9)

The monetisation of our well-meant attempts to connect with others is not practiced by Facebook alone, but by many other companies such as Spokeo and Instagram. But profiting from personal information that we provide for free is merely opportunistic, as compared to the more fateful uses to which our information can be put. "Your private data is being used not just to sell you products but to deny you certain opportunities," Andrews warns ominously (2011, 35). Your information, and those pictures of you at wild parties, can be used against you by a potential employer or a college admissions office; signs of your risky lifestyle can be used to deny you insurance, or even medical care; and such free-floating information "might later hamper your efforts to get a job, qualify for a loan, adopt a child, or fight for your rights in a criminal trial" (Andrews 2011, 28-29).

It is too late to lament "the death of privacy" or to regret a lost world. If the notion of personal privacy seems antiquated in an age when practices of openness prevail, then perhaps we need to reconsider "privacy" itself as a value. If we can reformulate it with Rössler along the lines of "privacy in general means being able to control 'access' to one's own personhood" (2005, 111), then it could help us cope with the onslaught of information technology. It is very likely that there are still some things that we would like to keep private. And all around we can see new strategies of privacy springing up. We use our ear-buds to listen to music and create a refuge for ourselves among the hubbub of the crowd, and (as the kids say) to "tune out the 'rents"; young people's preference for texting over phone conversations might be a sign of a lingering desire for private communication that parents cannot overhear or monitor; and, after all, most people prefer anonymity in online postings, or blog comments, especially when they have nasty things to say. We must face the fact, though, that in the new environment of digital culture we seem to be prepared to relinquish or negotiate our privacy when we think the benefits outweigh the costs. The new media compels us to re-think our conception of privacy, to re-evaluate the relations between private lives and public spaces, and to measure carefully the benefits and the risks of our behaviour. Above all, it obliges us to learn (and teach our students) about the need to be vigilant with regard to their personal data, the dangers and consequences of exposing your identity on the internet, and finally the need to think before you post.

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