Mar 10, 2020

Privacy - where to draw the line?

The year was 2000. I created my first email ID, sitting at an Internet browsing center, having paid Rs.50 per hour. That weekend, we had a distant relative visiting our home. My dad tells this uncle, "She has a new email address". The uncle asks me, "Give me your email ID. I will make a note of it". As he pulls up a small notepad from his pocket, I announced my email ID to him. He was shocked that I had revealed my name in my email ID. He sternly advises me, "You should never expose your personal details in your email ID. Keep it generic and cryptic". I just nodded my head and didn't pay much attention to his advice.

The year is 2020. A few days back, I was watching a YouTube video where a vlogger was unboxing some stuff from an Amazon package. Her physical address was clearly visible on the bill stuck to the front of the package. Either she forgot to mask the information while editing the video or she didn't really mind if her address is now publicly visible to anyone. 

Coincidentally, on the very same day, I was casually browsing through Netflix and stumbled upon this movie - "The circle". What caught my attention was the fact that Emma Watson is the lead. I didn't know anything about this movie or the book it is based upon. The movie kept me hooked for the most part. I didn't quite like the ending though. There were many loose threads that weren't explained well. Anyway, the story concept is something that intrigued me. In the movie, Mae (played by Emma Watson) chooses to wear a video camera ALL THE TIME and share her day with everyone, under the term "going transparent". I don't want to reveal too much about the movie. Do give it a watch.

There are several vloggers on YouTube who share every little detail about their lives - their homes, jogging tracks, locality, places they visit frequently etc. Youtube has become an effective monetization medium for such vloggers but at what cost, is something I wonder. The family members, including their kids are being shown in such vlogs. Kids' school buses, timings, school locations, tuition locations etc are shared without any hesitation. Who is responsible for these young kids' privacy and security?

This question of where to draw the line when it comes to privacy is something each of us needs to ask ourselves. There is no right answer and it is up to each of us to decide how much of our personal lives we are willing to share AFTER clearly understanding the repercussions. Are we okay with involving our little kids in our journey to become an influencer? Are we fine with sharing so many personal details, just so that our subscriber count crosses 100K? 

YouTube is just ONE medium where we are divulging so much of our personal lives knowingly by carrying a video camera around ALL THE TIME. This phrase "Data is the new oil" isn't just a fad. It is mind-boggling how much personal data is being collected by many of the apps that we use daily. Our home address, where we are currently, what we eat daily, which restaurants we frequent, the trips we take, where we go for evening walks, at what speed we walk/jog, our heart rates, our sleep routines, how much exercise we do, what groceries we buy on a weekly/monthly basis, what veggies/fruits do we eat, what packaged foods we buy frequently, how much expenses we make on our credit card, where do we save, how much money/time do we spend on entertainment - the list goes on and on. Agreed, all this info is dispersed across many servers and owned by many apps. This data is being used to personalize our experiences and auto-recommend products/services that would be most relevant for us.  But there are also possibilities where the intentions may not be ethical and our data could be used for reasons solely tied to the brands' growth strategy.

The intent of this post is to share my thoughts on this topic and not to debate about the various benefits technology offers in exchange for our data. As a first step, let us at least be aware of the various gadgets/apps we use on a daily basis and the kind of information we voluntarily share.

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