Cory Doctorow: Is Your Search History Really Anonymous?
The Institute of Ideas - Battle of Ideas 2009
The increasing reach of information technology into all areas of life, from social networking websites to data sharing in public services, has thrown up a number of questions about privacy. Information about our medical records, financial circumstances and shopping habits is increasingly likely to be stored in electronic media that are out of our control.Some critics worry more about Tesco's data-gathering than any "surveillance state." The controversy about Google Maps' Street View function, which captured thousands of unwitting people walking or standing on the streets, is a reminder that new technology constantly raises new questions about our privacy.So how worried should we be? Does the convenience of easily accessed information outweigh the danger of abuse? How are our conceptions of privacy changing? And following the success of the Pirate Party in Sweden, can we expect privacy to move up the political agenda in the UK, too?These concerns focus on technological development, but arguably there has been a broader cultural transformation, whereby we are loosening up about what we consider "private." From school to the workplace, we are constantly encouraged to discuss our feelings, while public figures in politics as well as showbiz seem ever-anxious not only to be "transparent" about their work, but to reveal intimate details of their private lives.Some argue we are seeing a fundamental shift in attitudes to privacy, with a whole new generation growing up at ease with sharing pictures and information about themselves online with loosely-defined "friends." Meanwhile, we are increasingly suspicious of goings-on "behind closed doors," and the demand for privacy often seems a cranky hang-up of those with something to hide.In this context, what does it mean to insist on a right to privacy? Should we look to privacy laws to protect those who are less keen on sharing all? Where is the line between public and private today? Do we need to redraw this line and why is this so politically important?