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How increased privacy may censor our collective voices

The heated debate around privacy, data and personal information is a very nuanced matter. The intimate relationship we have with our technology, especially in the way we continue to evolve the way that we express our values through it, brings an inherent sense of vulnerability whenever we think about the compromise of our privacy. I will be the first to admit that when there were rumours of old private messages from Facebook appearing publicly on our timelines I dashed out of a meeting to ensure that I was not compromised by it. This reaction is critical to note because in effect our identities and beliefs are much more readily available as expressed through technology. But what if there is another side to the story? What if I told you that with advanced privacy settings you might be giving up your chance to shape the society we live in?

As we enter into the age of reflexivity it is critical to note that our collective actions have consequences. This goes well beyond advertising as more behavioural and attitudinal data is collected to inform how our society, most notably power structures like governments and corporations, react to what we say and do. This voice you express through technology is critical. The values you share through technology is critical. Everything you say and do through technology is critical because it forces a societal reaction which, by ramping up privacy to the level of anonymity with no digital footprint, your voice may become censored. This is the point we need to understand because in reality the technological tracking “horse” has fled the stable and our world is moving into this reflexive state where identified data is important.

Critics will be quick to jump in and say that just because tracking isn’t in place it doesn’t mean you can behave anonymously. The problem here is that power structures aren’t interested in anonymity. They are interested in relevancy of your identity to their situation. I can post a Sesame Street image to perpetuate the meme but the reality is that I can’t vote and that matters to power structures. Just like no context is bad so is all context so unless I can establish relevancy, connectedness and consistency through my data identity I cannot affect change with my technological behaviours.

To be clear, I am not against privacy. In fact, I think we move the debate beyond the binary and establish more modular rules in how we express values through technology. If I want to express displeasure in concert with others in my government I

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can modify my settings accordingly. If I want to shop for medicine anonymously I can as well. The point is less to define a set of rules that compromises all positions and more so understand the power the individual has in expressing themselves through technology in our engineered, reflexive society.

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