Kate Murphy in the New York Times: “Well, that’s essentially the state of affairs on the Internet. There is no privacy. If those creepy targeted ads on Google hadn’t tipped you off, then surely Edward J. Snowden’s revelations, or, more recently, Jennifer Lawrence’s nude selfies, made your vulnerability to cybersnooping abundantly clear.
You need only read George Orwell’s “1984” or watch the film “Minority Report” to understand how surveillance is incompatible with a free society. And increasingly, people are coming to understand how their online data might be used against them. You might not get a job, a loan or a date because of an indiscreet tweet or if your address on Google Street View shows your brother-in-law’s clunker in the driveway. But less obvious is the psychic toll of the current data free-for-all.
“With all the focus on the legal aspects of privacy and the impact on global trade there’s been little discussion of why you want privacy and why it’s intrinsically important to you as an individual,” said Adam Joinson, professor of behavior change at the University of the West of England in Bristol, who coined the term “digital crowding” to describe excessive social contact and loss of personal space online.
Perhaps that’s because there is no agreement over what constitutes private information. It varies among cultures, genders and individuals. Moreover, it’s hard to argue for the value of privacy when people eagerly share so much achingly personal information on social media.
But the history of privacy (loosely defined as freedom from being observed) is one of status. Those who are institutionalized for criminal behavior or ill health, children and the impoverished have less privacy than those who are upstanding, healthy, mature and wealthy. Think of crowded tenements versus mansions behind high hedges.
“The implication is that if you don’t have it, you haven’t earned the right or aren’t capable or trustworthy,” said Christena Nippert-Eng, professor of sociology at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and author of “Islands of Privacy.”
So it’s not surprising that privacy research in both online and offline environments has shown that just the perception, let alone the reality, of being watched results in feelings of low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. Whether observed by a supervisor at work or Facebook friends, people are inclined to conform and demonstrate less individuality and creativity. Their performance of tasks suffers and they have elevated pulse rates and levels of stress hormones.
An analogy in the psychological literature is that privacy is like sleep….”