Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Privacy in the Digital Age

Reason magazine is mailing subscribers copies of the magazine this month with a satellite photo of the subscriber's neighborhood, with the subscriber's house circled, according to David Carr's article in the New York Times.

This is a "stunt" to illustrate to readers the degree of information available through public databases.

The article makes the point that these databases are very useful and make our lives easier in many ways, but we have lost a great deal of privacy in the last several decades without anyone really noticing until it was gone.

I've been reading an article by Michael R. Curry titled The Digital Individual and the Private Realm published in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers (Vol. 87, No. 4, Dec. 1997, pages 681-699).

Mr. Curry makes several points about how we have lost a great deal of privacy through geodemographics and data profiling.

Selected quote:
[T]he practices that define the private [realm] and the public [realm] can best be seen as elements in the spiritual and moral development of both individual and group. Privacy, that is, is fundamental to the functioning of society....Indeed, I would argue that the solution to a large category of the problems raised by geodemographic systems and by certain versions of geographic information systems and the GIS family is to take digital individuals seriously. We need to see them as important, permanent features of our society and ourselves. Once we begin to understand that these individuals -- carrying our names, addresses and social security numbers -- are talking for us, representing us, and making decisions for us, we can see that they are very much like the fragmented parts of ourselves that we present in every part of our everyday life.

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