Privacy, are you private?

ImagePrivacy is an issue one constantly hears on the news, at school and with friends. Individuals value their privacy and Westerners tend to enjoy their own ‘bubble space’ where acquaintances and colleagues are not allowed. This blog analyzes privacy in today’s rapidly growing technological world.  In Living in the Information Age, Frances Cairncross predicted the “loss of privacy” as a soon to be both problem and trend. She believed “governments and companies will easily monitor people’s movements” and “machines will recognize physical attributes like a voice or fingerprint”. Cairncross also wrote about how in the electronic era there will be little actual privacy as well as little unsolved crime. All of these factors sound like futuristic predictions I can easily envision with flying cars and robot maids, but how much of the first section prediction is accurate?

Governments and companies will easily monitor people’s movements.  In 2011, Time Magazine published an article stating that some malls track their customers by their cellphone signals. This information is collected through a network of monitoring units set up across mall and organized into a central processing center. This data is then analyzed to gain helpful insight into customers’ shopping habits, heavy foot traffic and additional pertinent details. The only option out of this invasion of privacy is to turn off your cell phone, which most people would never do anyway. The mall clearly represents Cairncross’s company’s prediction and it is scary to think it was published two years ago[1]. Similarly, the famous red-circled Target company tracks consumers purchasing habits to analyze and understand useful patterns to better target the customers. Thanks to incessantly analyzing data, the billion-dollar company figured out a teen girl was pregnant in 2012 before her own father did. Target then tailored its coupon book for this teenage girl and sent her coupons of baby clothes and cribs. The father had no idea and complained to the local manager; only to later find out she was indeed pregnant. This is an accurate depiction of Cairncross’s trend because Target is the company and through data analytics the company easily monitors people’s movements (or shopping habits)[2]. Companies are not the only ones who can easily monitor people’s movements, in California and eight other Western states the United States government can now monitor and track you virtually “anytime it wants- with no need for a search warrant”. Government agents can physically sneak onto your property, place a GPS device on the bottom of your car and monitor your every move without violating your Fourth Amendment rights. The government’s shrewd justification is that, “you do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in your own driveway and no reasonable expectation that the government isn’t tracking your movements”[3]. All three examples, either company or government, verify Cairncross’s prediction and make me question these institutions boundaries. Even if one lives a more private social media life (not updating locations, photos often, etc.), privacy is still a present and ever growing issue in our society. Word Count: 504

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