There is one question that you are being routinely asked as you finish billing for your groceries, garments, books, shoes, bags or even coffee: ‘What’s your phone number?’
The phone number is given out as a matter of routine, there are a few membership-linked reward points that you are looking forward to as well. Before you even step out of the store, you have an SMS on your phone with your billing details and then, every day, there are messages about discounts and promotions.
We have, willingly, for compensation, given out our phone number to a random retail store without any consideration and without knowing what they will do with our phone number. On the most preferred social media network, we are willingly sharing our location, even tagging the location as we upload status or picture. To another social media network, we have given permission to sync our phone book, allowed them to access our microphone and let them see our photo and video gallery. We even allow well known apps to access our bank accounts and credit card statements, all because they remind us of due dates and give us reward points. I would assume that finance is the most private data we have, but we willingly give access to someone who is unknown to read our financial data only to remind us of payment due dates!
The browser knows everything
Privacy is essential to human beings. Privacy is a fundamental right upon which we build the foundation of dignity, autonomy and progress. Privacy is about building barriers around us that help us to cope with joys and sorrows of life. Privacy is about permissions where we let the outside world into our deepest corners to connect and celebrate.
Come to think of it, our houses are made that way. We have the living rooms where we let the outsiders in and let them ‘see’ how we live. There are also deeply private parts of our homes where we do not let everyone in. The private spaces are sacred too, as this is where the progress of life gets planned and implemented.
A willing farewell to privacy?
So, how have we willingly given up our right to privacy and allowed all parts of our lives to be on display? The biggest challenge to privacy is technology - we have allowed technology the access to parts of our lives that we consciously never thought of publicising. However, technology is also the biggest protector of privacy, as it does keep many parts of what we are and what we do completely hidden from the world.
We, as human beings, have to see the challenge of technology and its ability to invade privacy from twin angles. What are we as humans and what are we as consumers? As humans, it’s our desire to be famous, to be role models, to be appreciated for the good deeds, to be forgiven for mistakes. Today, technology has made it easy for the world to see individual strengths and follies. But it’s we as consumers, who need to be careful. By letting the world know what we buy, what we read, what we watch, where we go, how we go, we are allowing the world to tell us how we can buy and consume more, or consume better.
The challenge for privacy will not come from tech, it will come from permissions. The time has come when we deny permission for technology, and don’t let anyone take us for an unknown ride.
(The author is Co-founder and CSO, Bang in the Middle)