The Many Faces of Privacy

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In our last blog we discussed psychological manipulations and whether or not they can be ethical. This week we’ll be diving into a completely different area:

How much privacy are we entitled to?

Our digital privacy rights have been grossly neglected and abused as online companies have harnessed the value of our data, making the issue increasingly urgent. The value of our right to privacy is so intuitive that it was baked into The United States Bill of Rights over 200 years ago in the fourth and fifth amendments, and there are now over 600 state laws and a dozen federal laws protecting citizens’ privacy. For many, our fundamental right to privacy outweighs many other concerns, such as the government’s ability to prosecute criminals. A fully encrypted, completely private online experience can seem like the best solution when looked at from this angle.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple

This article from Techopedia lists “10 Quotes About Tech Privacy That’ll Make You Think.” The first section is about sexting rings, wherein nude pictures of teenage girls are shared with a large group of boys. Sexting rings demonstrate the value of privacy and the way the internet exposes us, but they also demonstrate the other side of the privacy coin. Whose privacy is more important in this instance — the girl whose photo is being shared, or the boy who’s sharing the photo? If we’re going to value the privacy of the girl and her right to not have nude photographs of herself distributed, then there needs to be a way to track what’s been shared and by whom.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in the UK says there are over 9,000 reported cases of child sex abuse occurring online in a year. According to NSPCC’s website, “Child protection experts, law enforcement, and Facebook themselves have said end-to-end encryption will prevent them from identifying and disrupting child abuse on their services. End-to-end encryption provides abusers with a shield that keeps online child abuse hidden from view. Private messaging is the most common avenue for abusers to contact children.”

So how do we protect citizens’ privacy without providing a safe-haven for criminals, particularly those who would prey on children? One option would be to use age-restricted encryption, so that messages with anyone under the age of 18 can be accessible if needed. Another idea, put forth by Abhishek Kulkarni, a panelist at our last event, would be to set scalability limitations on encryption. That is to say that if a message is being shared amongst more than a set number of people, it will no longer be considered to have the same privacy privileges of messages shared between individuals or smaller groups.

There is no easy answer to this highly complex question, so it’s important that we continue to discuss, ideate, and iterate to try to find the right balance of protection for all.

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