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Photos and Digital Identity

The Changing Face of Privacy


Double exposure of man and cityscape
Jasper James/ Stone/ Getty Images

I've been talking about digital identity for a little while now, which seems to be the finger on the pulse of privacy today. Law enforcement would like cell phone providers to save a couple years worth of information you send over your cell phone in case they have to look for evidence. That is not unreasonable, because chances are good they would find some. After all, we live our lives in a digital world, from cellphone, iPad, laptop, desktop, WiFi, or what have you. On the other hand, I think of the Miranda Act, specifically the part about anything you say being used against you; and all that sounds awfully legal.

But consider for a moment what we give away without a second thought. Marketing information, demographics, GPS location, and countless other identifiers go out with every cell phone app these days. This invariably brings a annoyances like random market researches that we have accidentally opted into.

There has been a big ruckus about Facebook and photo privacy. Coupled with the fact that they had recently released a mobile app to make it easier to automatically upload all your photos to Facebook for you to go over later raised questions of intention. The change in language of the Instagram privacy policy has brought a similar conversation to the table. This isn't terribly surprising, however, since Facebook bought Instagram earlier in the year.

All of this information being compiled into one place, photos of ourselves and our friends, family, and whatever silly thing we happen to snap a picture of stored away for later use. This all provide a lot of personal depth to our social digital identity, but keep in mind, this is not a required app, you have to subscribe to it yourself through an opt-in policy. If nothing else, go into it with your eyes open.

So as a culture, we over all seem to be fine with the idea of sharing personal information, even if it means losing a little privacy in the exchange. I'm really not a math guy, but I'm sure there is some mathematical equation that could be thrown up against all these variables to come out with a percentage of how much risk you are taking when you share, for example, a picture of you having your dog on your front porch.

On the other hand, the natural conclusion of this information build-up could make for an interesting sci-fi story. Pulling technologies together, it's not difficult to see a world where every GPS-tagged photo has been collected based on location. Facial recognition software filters through everyone associated with that place, and can tell you how frequently they have been seen. Architecture backgrounds would be easy to recognize as well, because they have straight lines. Integrated over the Google Maps project we suddenly have a photo realistic survey of the more densely populated areas. O, and UFO sightings, can't forget those. This hypothetical database alone sounds like it would be immensely valuable to any investigation, which leases back to the law enforcement angle. It doesn't take any complicated math to solve this equation.

It is very much looking like Supreme Court Justice Alito's published opinion on the subject of privacy was dead on. The loss of it seems to be something to which we can reconcile ourselves. This can definitely make one feel like an alarmist when they bring up a question about a privacy policy at a business. Admittedly, our social digital identity has more to do with reputation than it does with anything financial, although some sources talk about pulling all of these databases together with a single search to map out our lives. In fact, most of us would wonder what they would ever find interesting about our lives; but it's the principle of the thing, you know?

While we drop the threshold of privacy that we expect to maintain, our lives become more interactive with the help of the internet. There seem to be arguments on both side of the fence as to whether that makes in our social interaction stronger or weaker, but that social interaction is definitely more relevant to us.

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