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Privacy still matters in open digital world

November 14th, 2011 No comments

THE woman was distraught, there was no doubt about it. Her voice was shaky, and never far from tears. ‘We just can’t understand why we are still alive and others aren’t,” she managed to say at one point, referring to her partner. They had been involved in the disastrous motorway pile-up on the M5 near Taunton in Somerset, England. Seven people were dead, and another 50 hurt, some of them with what one reporter referred to, chillingly, as ‘life-changing injuries’. This woman, speaking on Irish radio, was, if not in shock, obviously traumatised.

She and her husband had indeed been extraordinarily lucky to escape, apparently with no physical harm. But one of the mental issues that was torturing her now, she explained, was how quotes and photographs of the couple, who had escaped ‘miraculously’, were appearing in newspapers and websites, without their permission.

“We spoke to The Times of London,” she said, “but other newspapers have run stories about us, have stolen our pictures from Facebook….I will never believe what I read in the papers again.”

This was Ciara Neno’s verdict, after being interviewed on RTE radio. Her distress was evident, and deserves kindness and respect. But her alarm at photographs being ‘stolen’ from Facebook highlights, yet again, how privacy has become a thing of the past. And many people don’t seem to have noticed, nor to care. It is only in extreme situations such as this that people feel violated when their information, and images, is taken and used without their permission. Everywhere, the media is doing the equivalent of the old unethical reporter’s trick of climbing in the bathroom window to steal a photograph of someone involved in a tragic or dramatic story.

People are, in effect, putting their personal information and images up in a vast public square. The so-called privacy settings on Facebook, Google+, and others are often only a minor obstacle to mildly skilful computer-users.   Read more…

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