Thoughts on Privacy: The right way forward.

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Retrospectively, my never ending awe for computers began when I played role playing games like police vs thieves , some of the participants got to be the police while the others would be the thieves. The game progresses by telling stories and the opponents finding errors and improvise to get the other. We tried to catch thieves using all the fancy equipment that you now see in movies. I remember making a computer out of two pillows. one standing up and the one lying down. It would be my perfect keyboard. We used to run background checks, track people in realtime, access the databases for their priors, validate their alibi’s, see where they were living, what they were doing without any information of how the computer would actually do that and the thieves when caught use to complain, that there is no way on earth that a computer would know where they were, or have information about their track record and the game then ends while everyone starts having arguments of how it would be possible.

I was thinking about the scenario today, as it turns out we are still having the same debate on a whole different scale. One of our basic freedoms as humans is where we can choose to share and further have a choice between the intended use and recipients of the information we share, as we progressed along with the social dynamic of internet, we have came a long way, we do share and reveal extra ordinarily so much more than usual, where we do get an illusion of choice of its visibility, usage and privacy for that matter, with such advancements and the such higher rates of sharing, so much more information is being collected by organisations.


Its being said the sexiest job you could have in this century is of a data scientist and its only fair to point the obvious benefits and the positive gain from the analysis of this big data. Advancements in Financial services, bioinformatics, genomics, medicine, advertisement, without it you won’t be able to see some the most fantastic innovations, such as the IBM’s Watson or Google’s self driving cars, with the arrival of cloud computing we will be able to do this analysis on a much larger scale, which would be helping us to get to the results with ever more agility and speed.

No one can or is denying the benefits, we have to progress, organisations do have to collect this data and I would really like to have a self driving car more sooner, but there are severe tradeoffs when we give up the right to privacy.

Any personal information can become sensitive information. The enormous personal data into social networks is creating an opportunity for an advanced, accessible technology with help from technologies like the cloud, the internet of things and the public databases. It has the potential to shatter our privacy by miles. Alessandro Acquisti tested this hypothesis by screening photos with facial recognition software, public databases, and personal information from social media networks, a complete profile can be created with an unnerving sense of ease.

As a proof of concept he was able to make an augmented reality iPhone app where he could identify people using facial recognition and get all the information from the publicly available information including the social security number.

Now if you connect the augmented reality app with wearables like Google glass or maybe someday technologically advanced contact lenses, anyone would be able to observe people right through and get information which is private, not intended for him and that information may very well be used as leverage, which normally should have been hidden.

To my surprise, Watch Dogs (The game) has done a remarkable job in visualising the extremes of what can happen with such intersection of technologies.

Imagine being in a job interview, and loosing a job just because of a not so sober photo posted online years ago by your friend. Imagine a bad guy getting your child’s whereabouts and records, planning something worse. Imagine being judged from the society forever for your one mistake that someone posted online. Imagine being a suspect because of your religion, ethnicity or background. Imagine being subject of public hate because you expressed a unpopular view when you were young. Imagine being denied a loan. Imagine being denied the ability to fly. Imagine a world where you couldn’t take things back and move on. I can go on and on, but couldn’t resist asking these questions when I am told people don’t care about privacy.

Privacy is not just something we enjoy. It is something that is necessary for us to develop as humans, to keep our individuality, not affected by the influence of society, whether we like it or not there is constant data collection about everything we do like the kind conducted by Facebook and an increasing number of other companies, makes and impacts our actions. People do behave differently when under focus and surveillance. Cohen argues how privacy is like oxygen which is as essential to shape us into truly who we are.



Its really clear that we do value privacy, most of us dress in private, don’t like people listening in our phone calls and we choose whether to share our mail or medical records. But what i fail to understand is what changes that the same people who go to great length completely ignore any concern when it comes to privacy in the online arena.

I am convinced by the ideas of [Alessandro when he asks if the game is rigged]( in the way privacy options are displayed online. Just as how casino’s try to minimise the feeling of loosing money, online organisations do this by asking for collection of data, just once and only at the start, which not only reduces the concern one has for some future use of that service, but also the system still lacks transparency, no one reads the all lawyered up terms of use and privacy policy. People do expect it to act as advertised and not to violate there privacy.


I think the software industry needs to revamp the way privacy is done. No more mentions of privacy policy with a million word count. I really like the idea about how cluster has taken permission every time with full disclosure. It is necessary to dilute asking for privacy into smaller actions. But the principles need to be primitive and be in the spirit of how Informed Consent is used in healthcare before any intervention is conducted.

Transaction : Any potential privacy challenging action

Apps / Services should ask for a permission Every time a transaction is done.

Apps / Services should give Full disclosure on the intended data use on each transaction

Apps / Services should provide Full Services even if the customer refuses to permit a Transaction.

Apps / Services should provide a Delete button to the user for any data / information they have collected of a user

This is my perception of what privacy should actually be and how companies with a conscience should act in this manner given the fact that we all claim to be supportive of a more democratic nature of privacy than a dictatorial one.

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