Opinion

There are no secrets in cyber space

Sivakumar KB | Updated on January 15, 2018

Signature tune It consistently strikes a discordant note in your personal online matters   -  Phich Keers/shutterstock.com

Every time you go on the web or even hit ‘like’ in response to a request, you leave a trail that lays bare your inside story

This is about how your life is not yours anymore. Voluntarily and stealthily, you as an individual are an open book now. Your inner circle of trust, likes, choice of food, holidays and even intimate moments are in the public domain. What you search and shop for, and whom you connect with are no longer personal. It’s not just Big Data or complex search algorithms invading your privacy, it is also simple monitoring (aka stealthily tracking) on the web.

“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” said the punchline to a cartoon in The New Yorker in 1993. The web and social media give more credibility to this cartoon now than at any other time. It took a good twelve days for news of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination to cross the Atlantic on a steamer. It appears that the news from Washington reached New York after the mailer had left the port there and hence a boat was sent in hot pursuit to pass on the news. Reuters claimed the credit for delivering the news first to the world, albeit twelve days later!

Fast forward to nearly eight score years later: Lincoln’s assassination would most likely have been captured a Facebook Live or shared through Periscope on Twitter. It’s more likely a person thousands of miles away from Washington would have seen it live as it happened even before the president’s staff knew what was happening.

Speed age

There are no arguments countering the credit for speed this information age has given, be it the run-up to the US elections, natural disasters or happenings in your circle of trust. The abundance of information available on the net coupled with search tools that retrieve them in nanoseconds has made encyclopedia a thing of the past.

Social media is now the largest media industry with information constantly being updated. It’s an open platform where every individual is a writer, photographer or ghost watcher. Not only is what you write published, it’s shared and has a cascading impact of information dissemination. The centre of this industry revolves around you as an individual and how you have turned your life into an open book.

Big Data is a catch-all term for the digital breadcrumbs you leave behind as you go about your daily life. It comprises huge data and analytic toolsto mark you as a target customer. Businesses use this information to understand customers better. Whether it is right or wrong to utilise that data is a separate legal and ethical debate. But what you choose to like, share and leave as footprints is individual choice. While Big data analytics argue for the benefits of such information to industry, identity theft and loss of privacy cannot be ignored. Scams involving loss of identity, including the recent Mumbai call centre incident, point to how open we have become by accepting the fine print on the net.

‘Social media privacy’ is an oxymoron. If you are on the net, it’s not private anymore. Every time you search for the best restaurant deal, share good news with your social media connects or tweet your mind, your ‘audience’ is bigger than you know. Every online move leaves cyber footprints that are rapidly becoming fodder for research without you ever realising it.

Using social media for academic research is accelerating and raising ethical concerns along the way, as vast amounts of information collected by private companies are providing new insights on all aspects of everyday life. Try making a search for hotels and a target advertisement pops up on your social post the next time you visit. Call your family doctor or colleague a couple of time and, voila, he may come up as a ‘people you know’ on your social page.

Information as fodder

The public space is now turned into a behavioural laboratory and every one of us is fodder for the reservoir of information.

How many of us recollect the hundreds of friends we have on social media and the information sites we have shared our email ID on and answers to security questions posed to recollect password? Increasingly, we share more information about ourselves with a wider audience than we would have done earlier. Stalking is an offence in many countries, yet ghost watchers of friends and viewing photos are socially acceptable. Would we share our wedding photos and wishes to loved ones with three hundred odd friends in public?

And if those friends happen to like our photos, they are, in turn, viewed by their friends whom we are barely aware of. But that is what many of us do every day.

The writer is a Singapore-based banker

Published on November 27, 2016

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