Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Privacy vs Transparency

Privacy vs. Transparency
There is a tendency to blame today's technology for the foibles of society. Marshall McCluhan once said that the medium is the message, as he chronicled the transformational power of television in his sixties books and essays. At the time, the medium of television itself was not the problem. Nor was the TV programming of the day, as more and more controversial subjects found eager audiences on the air waves back then. But just as media influences society, habit tends to shape that same society and its media. The conservative view is usually restraint or, in some cultures, prevention from or blocking of access to information or media. This blog won't try to reconcile these differences in values, culture, or politics. It will, however, try to suggest  reducing the blame for bad media, bad ideas, or bad behavior on the media itself.
Facebook's recent photo tagging policy is a classic example. While facial recognition provides Facebook the means to exploit user's uploaded pictures for a variety of "good" and, potentially, "bad" purposes, there are other implications of this capability that are yet to be discussed in various media forums thus far. For instance, the gap between privacy and license has yet to be discussed, especially in most Western countries where individual freedom is important. If we can use cameras at large gatherings to identify criminals or suspected terrorists, is this good or bad? If we use facial recognition to validate a legitimate user - like we do with fingerprint or other bio-identity protection - is that good or bad?
Obviously, Facebook will use facial recognition to its own advantage, but that doesn't mean that Facebook users must post their pictures or not opt-out of the feature. Maybe the problem is that users are more confused, or blinded, by the technology or its capability than they are from their own motives, interests, values, or plain stupidity. I suggest a "look before you post" policy might be a good idea, especially if you believe that it is bad.

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