Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: privacy (Page 1 of 7)

Protection, or Paranoia?

"Some teens see privacy as a right, but many more see privacy as a matter of trust. Thus, when their parents choose to snoop or lurk or read their online posts, these teens see it as a signal of distrust." In this quote from her book It's Complicated, danah boyd points out the potential effects of strict parental control of computers. She discusses specific examples of teenagers who have a variety of opinions on this parenting policy.

In my experience, strict parental restrictions on computers and media are often ineffective parenting methods. While my parents were entirely trusting and never even checked my grades, let alone my computer history, my best friend's were not. Neither of us was ever doing anything we needed to hide, but it was clear to me the effect of our parents' different styles. For example, I was perfectly willing to give my parents my passwords, and we had talked about how I should be willing, but they had never asked for them--my friend's passwords were taped to the refrigerator. As we grew up, going through high school, I began to recognize the great disparity between our experiences. My parents trusted me to be responsible on my laptop, to come to them with problems or questions, and to monitor my own media. When I got a Twitter, for example, I let them know. My friend's parents, however, generally trusted her as long as they could verify that their trust was well-placed. Their restrictions diminished as we got older, but they were still present--and still a topic of conversation for us.

While my friend's parents meant well, they restricted their daughter's freedom to explore. She never really rebelled, but we would have lengthy conversations about what tv shows she would watch when we went to college, and why we thought the rules were unfair. The idea of privacy was a well-covered topic in our discussions. Looking back, her parents' rules caused my friend to wish she could hide at least something, while my parents' made me to feel free to come to them with anything. From my perspective, my friend never developed the kind of trust I have in my parents, because hers never gave her the chance. boyd's statement on this topic fits this observation. My friend never saw privacy as a right, but more as a signal of trust that she never received.

I've Heard it Both Ways

It’s easy to think of privacy and publicity as opposing concepts, and a lot of technology is built on the assumption that you have to choose to be private or public. Yet in practice, both privacy and publicity are blurred.     (danah 76)

As with many of the issues surrounding cryptography, privacy versus publicity is often viewed as a false dichotomy. Both privacy and publicity are relative terms, though. Without a public realm of information with which to compare it, privacy would not exist. The problem with sharing information publicly, though, arises when we must decide what information we wish to keep private. As discussed in this chapter, the fact that teens wish to keep information private does not indicate that they have something to hide; rather, it is an example of them choosing which parts of their lives to keep to themselves.

In a way, making aspects of our lives public can actually increase our privacy relatively. It is possible for teens to hide behind a screen and only post what they want other people to see, not the whole truth. By choosing which aspects of our lives to keep private, we are realizing that just about everything else can be accessed by the general public. It is a trade-off that many choose to make, but in reality is just a consequence of trying to find a balance between privacy and publicity. In an era where private information is becoming increasingly public, we must work to find a happy medium where we can easily communicate with others while still respecting individual decisions on which parts of life they wish to keep private.

Taking a structuralist tactic, legal scholar Alan Westin argues that privacy is “the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others," (boyd, 59).

With all of the definitions and specifics of privacy that dana boyd gives in Chapter Two of her book It's Complicated, I think Alan Westin's is the most sound. Many argue that privacy is the right to be left alone or the right for someone to keep personal information to themselves, but I think a better definition is that privacy is the ability to control how and how much personal information is made public, which is exactly how Alan Westin defines it. This definition is the best one because when teens post personal information on social media websites, they are not depriving themselves of privacy as some parents think; they are still in control of when, how, and to what extent their personal information is posted on these sites.

The reason many teens dislike when their parents look at their texts without permission or go onto their Facebook accounts is because they have no control over what their parents might see, which is a complete invasion of privacy by the parents. On the other hand, teens should not be bothered by their parents viewing their social media pages from their own social media accounts. Teens should assume that whatever pictures get put on the Internet are there permanently and almost anyone can access them. Teens have the ability to control what they put on public social media sites, so they cannot be annoyed by their parents viewing and commenting on their Facebook picture if they choose to be friends with their parents on Facebook. Teens are in control of what information they post on public social media sites, so they have no one to blame but themselves if they are bothered by how much information their parents can see on their Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram page.

I always feel like somebody's watching me

"Like many of his peers, Christopher believes that there is a significant difference between having the ability to violate privacy and making the choice to do so." (Its Complicated, 74)

I love my mom. She is a great mother; however, her views on privacy line up pretty closely to that of the "intensive" parenting style described in the chapter which caused some tension growing up. Before my junior year of high school, it was not unordinary for her to read through my texts, track my location, or even search through my social media outlets, and this was not because of anything that I had done to warrant this, it was just her philosophy of what a loving parent should do.

I believe that, as a parent, it is important to have knowledge of your child's whereabouts when his safety is not ensured and general knowledge of what is going on his life. Because of this, parents should have access to this information of their child (e.g. location services and "friends" on social media); however, as the quote points out, there is a big difference between access to violating privacy and actually doing so. I think that parents too frequently make trust and privacy complementary properties, where the increase of one causes a decrease of the other, which I think misses the mark of what trust means completely.

There are plenty of ties that can be made to the security vs. privacy argument, but one obvious difference is the scale of operation. On the national scale, the government is far outnumbered by the people, while in the family, the child is typically outnumbered by other family members. A smaller scale makes bad behavior much more difficult to sneak by the involved parent. This makes invasions of privacy cause, usually, just negative feelings and no protection of the child. This being said there are plenty of examples in which this is not the case, including an ignorant child who does not know how to properly act online or a child who actually has had made poor decisions in the past.

 

Privacy = Trust

Some teens see privacy as a right, but many more see privacy as a matter of trust. Thus, when parents choose to snoop or lurk or read their online posts, these teens see it as a signal of distrust.
-danah boyd
(It's Complicated, page 73)

I can remember in 8th grade when my friends' parents starting joining Facebook, not because they wanted to snoop on us, but because they saw Facebook as an opportunity to reconnect with old high school and college friends. However, some people did see this invasion into the "teen world" as their parents mistrust of them. Until recently, my parents have not had any desire to join social media (now my dad has a Twitter that he uses as a newsfeed for short, quick headlines). But more so than social media, my parents' surveillance of me in other ways has given me the same sense of distrust that the teens interviewed in It's Complicated expressed.

Until I turned 18, my dad received a text message every time I used my debit card, including where and how much. They also have the ability to (and they do) use the location services on my phone to see where I am. In short, if I wanted to go somewhere and do something without my parents' knowledge, it wouldn't be easy. Sometimes, it would seem that they don't trust me to tell them where I actually am and what I'm actually doing, but I'm sure their intentions are to ensure my safety in case anything were to happen.

In high school, I gave up some privacy to appease my parents and follow their rules. But now that I'm at college, our understanding is that unless I go off campus anywhere further than walking distance, I must let them know where I'm going. In other words, they trust me and give me the privacy to go and do what I please around and just off campus, and I expect that they won't betray that privacy by checking my exact location all the time. I think that in all aspects of life, the balance of privacy and trust versus safety and protection is an integral piece of the relationship between a teen and his/her parents. Even if we have nothing to hide, we associate having some privacy with the extent to which our parents trust us.

Semantics, Semantics

In It’s Complicated, by danah boyd, the author remarks that “Journalists, parents, and technologists seem to believe that a willingness to share in public spaces—and, most certainly, any act of exhibitionism and publicity—is incompatible with a desire for privacy” (56). This observation comes in the middle of a discussion about social media and the complicated boundaries of online spaces. Is social media participation an automatic abandonment of all privacy? And to what extent should information be regarded as private when in these spaces?

In my opinion, just because people decide to use social media does not mean they are forfeiting their privacy. However, the issue lies mostly in the perception of what “privacy” is, and the disparities between the beliefs of adults and youth. Those who grew up without Facebook or Twitter may think that because the general public is able to access that information whenever they want, that information is not private.

However, except for in the cases of celebrities or wildly popular teenagers, many people do not have that many friends or followers. This means that what they share, they choose to share with the relatively small community of people they have built in that online space, and any unwelcome intrusions from those who feel their information is public is just that: unwanted and resented. In the specific case of boyd’s book, this may be teenagers trying to keep what autonomy they can online. But in the eyes of their parents, because they can see the information, they feel entitled to invade their children’s privacy.

A New Perspective on Privacy

“Instead of signaling the end of privacy as we know it, teens’ engagement with social media highlights the complex interplay between privacy and publicity in the networked world we all live in now.” (boyd, 57)

Growing up in a world full of social media, I’ve become used to the idea of a thousand of my “friends” on Facebook seeing every photo I post. However, whenever I add a new picture or update my status, the vast number of people seeing what I have decided to publish is one of the last thoughts on my mind. I believe that social media has somewhat numbed me to the effects of what I post as the access to my information is instantly shared with those following me on social media, thus giving them complete freedom to use this knowledge however they like.

In boyd’s book It’s Complicated, she addresses the relationship between privacy and social media as teens today continue to make more and more aspects of their lives public. While past generations often lived in complete privacy, teens have become used to sharing most of their lives with the world.

But even though fewer aspects of our lives remain private, this does not mean that the concept of privacy has disappeared altogether. Instead, I believe that what we truly wish to remain private often does, as teens understand the drastic consequences social media often brings. Once a photo or text is shared, the sender automatically surrenders its privacy. Because social media gives people the access to publicize everything at their disposal, teens have therefore adjusted to a new perspective of privacy in which it is often only their most valued information that remains completely confidential.

Teen Privacy

In It’s Complicated, Emily Nussbaum states “Kids today…have no sense of shame. They have no sense of privacy” (boyd 55). She continues with a series of eloquent terms that describe how the “kids” publicly defame themselves with indecent pictures, and how they are “little loons who post…their stupid poetry” and thoughts “online” (boyd 55).

 

In today’s complicated world of electronics, it is reasonable to see how many Internet users might not know how exactly the security on their computer functions. For example, users might feel safe uploading private information to the worldwide web because they believe their social media accounts to simply be protected by a mere password, unaware of the versatility of hackers to penetrate such protection. This sense of privacy within a security system may be the result of the user’s lack of knowledge, and subsequently may be a reason to why so many “kids” are prone to upload personal data online undeterred.

 

In the sense of social privacy, however, we see “kids” who are ignorant or apathetic to disclosing personal data to the public. This lack of responsibility in maintaining one’s privacy is what Emily believes to be troublesome. Yet, when posting pictures and videos of themselves, kids do carry around “a sense of shame” in selecting only photos they deem worthy to be presented to the public. While this may indicate a separate problem with their self-image, it is a counterargument for Emily’s aforementioned statement—kids do carry a sense of shame, just not the one adults typically have in mind. This leads to boyd’s point that there are teens that genuinely care about a different sense of privacy, one that involves escaping the surveillance of “paternalistic adults” (boyd 56).

When privacy becomes a privilege

Since Marcus was questioned by the National Homeland Security after “being at the wrong place at the wrong time”, his freedom has been taken away from him. During the journey, he has fought himself all the way to the end of the story for his rights,  freedom and privacy. In this specific setting, these rights, freedom and privacy are no longer what we “suppose to have”, but rather a privilege that need to be earned.

Coming from a country where websites or tools such as Google, Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter are all blocked, I witnessed people’s different attitudes and approaches to this seemingly harsh censorship. Some would, as Doctorow suggests, getting around the Great Firewall of China by using an encrypted connection to computer in some other country (p. 112); some would physically get through this firewall, which is what I ended up doing. Either way, people would take some risks or make some sacrifice for the privilege to own their privacy. On the other hand, others, probably happen to be the majority of the population, either don’t really care about this censorship or choose to do nothing with it.

That really got me thinking, why would we care about privacy anymore while a lot of people around us seem to think it’s no big deal? And again I asked the question I asked when I wrote the first paper: why would we care about data mining if we are doing nothing wrong? Doctorow offers his answer to the questions in “Little Brother”– because privacy does matter. It is not about doing something wrong or shameful, but about doing something private, about having some corner of our lives that is ours, and knowing no one else gets to see it. (p. 57)

Why Do We Want Privacy?

"It's not about doing something shameful. It's about doing something private. It's about your life belonging to you" (Doctorow 57).

The idea in Little Brother that made me think the most was the idea of personal privacy and why that is so important. On page 57, Marcus compares a betrayal of personal privacy to a situation where you had to use the bathroom in a glass box in the middle of New York City every time you had to go. Everyone uses the bathroom, but it is a private and personal part of our lives, not something we want to share with everyone. So while Marcus didn't have anything really illegal, and definitely not at all related to the terrorist attack, on his phone, he didn't want to give "severe haircut lady" his password because his phone had private information that was his personal space. Throughout the novel, Doctorow explores the balance of protecting privacy and stopping terrorism. Homeland Security's efforts to find terrorists causes divorces and fights, things brought to light when their privacy was compromised. Xnet begins in the first place so kids can play video games and email away from the snooping DHS. This widespread desire for a private corner of our lives is why cryptography is so prevalent in our lives. As Vanderbilt students, our emails, web browsing, and phone calls are likely (and hopefully) nothing illegal: emailing professors about homework, calling home to parents, and ordering a pizza. But that doesn't mean that we want everyone to be able to see that. Cryptography allows everyone a sense of privacy and a way to create that privacy. However in this novel, Doctorow asks an important question: how much of this personal privacy are we willing to give up in the face of terrorism? Whether you agree more with Marcus or his dad, I think everyone would agree that the government in Little Brother gave far too little respect to personal privacy.

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