31 Jul 2012
When the adulterated Street View debuted, I was less amused than appalled. I took to my blog, crying, “Germany, what have you done? You have digitally desecrated your cities.” Navigating a lovely German landscape online, one is suddenly assaulted with a fog of pixels obscuring the public view.
The Internet has forever changed privacy. We expect for the things that we do in our online spaces to be hidden and private, despite the open nature of these social networks: Twitter profiles are, most often, completely unlocked; Facebook updates are shared with hundreds of “friends”; Instagram geo-tags personal photos and sends them to public timelines. And once something has been placed online it is often permanently available — even if the user chooses to delete it, because it was once part of the public realm.
Do not take this to be an outcry about the tyranny of Google or Facebook; we have brought about this loss of solitude with our desire for the complimentary. We have given up our freedom in favor of free products, but we have done so willingly. We do not give money in exchange for Facebook or Gmail, so those companies must seek their profits elsewhere. This is the nature of capitalism and, while it may be possible to go back to the older model of simple exchange, we seem perfectly content with the return that we get for our privacy.
The Internet has transformed the very nature of the human being without necessarily changing the perceptions that we hold about ourselves. We still seem to believe that the right to freedom is absolute, despite the frequency with which we give it up.