Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Does Personal Privacy Exist in the Digital Age? Dream On.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are living in the California Gold Rush era of the 1850’s. Money, money, everywhere for the taking. 

Well, the California rush is back, except this time it’s not in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It’s in the Valley of the Silicon. The major difference now is we are not the miners – we are the gold. Our movements, friends, purchases, photos, likes and dislikes, communications, and so on are the new “Silicon Gold.” Available free of charge, all with our permission. The miners? Facebook, Google and a host of other online companies.

In an amazing expression of truth, in his book The New Digital Age, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt states the following:

“In the future, our identities in everyday life will come to be defined more and more by our virtual activities and associations.  Your online identity in the future is unlikely to be a simple Facebook page; instead it will be a constellation of profiles, from every online activity, that will be verified and perhaps even regulated by the government.”

This was scary enough without the mention of our government. Yes, Big Brother is watching, analyzing every move we make. 

In a clumsy attempt to depersonalize our compromised personal privacy, Big Brother has been christened with a new name: “Big Data.” But the result is the same. Big Data is a huge and growing business in cyberspace, called by the Wall Street Journal  the “fastest growing business on the Internet.” Big Data’s moneymaking model? Gather, repurpose and resell information we provide. Its market? The online advertising industry, a market worth $30 billion and counting. 

Why do you think Yahoo shelled out $1.1 billion cash for Tumblr, a six-year old blogging company that deals in – among other controversial data – pornography and makes no profit?  Because there’s Silicon Gold in those blogs. And Yahoo is tired of seeing its neighboring miners Facebook and Google pull in all of the gold.  They want a lucrative mining stake for themselves and proved they will pay dearly to get it.

In his enlightening new book Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace, Ronald Deibert puts it this way:

“Like a giant python that has consumed a rat, Facebook captures, swallows, and slowly digests its users – you and me. In a very real sense we no longer move about our lives as self-contained beings, but as nodes of information production in a dense network of digital relations involving other nodes of information production. All of the data about us as individuals [“Silicon Gold”] in social network communities is owned, operated, managed, and manipulated by third parties beyond our control.” 

I rest my case. How safe are you feeling today?

("Isolated Pyrite" image: smokedsalmon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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