An Assault On Privacy
Before I begin, I would like to mention the work of Anna Lauren Hoffmann on Data Violence. I feel that her work has inspired and influenced how I see privacy and our interactions with technology. She has done really in depth and insightful research into how non dominant groups are constantly erased, micro aggressed, diminished and discriminated against by algorithms, by the way technology works and is programmed. That this bias is a form of violence.
My work with and for targeted groups often reveals new areas or issues that I had not considered before. Increasingly I feel that we need to re-evaluate our attitudes to our own privacy and the rights of others. I meet fairly strong resistance to this idea. There is what I consider to be a nihilism- the “well you are in a public space and filmed anyway” argument.
I have drawn attention before to sites such as Tubecrush, which violate the privacy of individuals not only by posting photos but location and travel details. We overshare ourselves, we are encouraged to post to social media, to tag our friends and our location. Some apps and platforms encourage this as a default. It is increasingly worth reconsidering how much we share and how much we have a right to share of other people’s lives.
This might start with how much a parent might share of a child’s life on Facebook for example. It could be if we ask permission before we tag a good friend on Instagram in a party photo. These are not things that all of us consider for close friends or family. We have become used to having a “right” to share the lives of those connected to us without consent. We then extend that to strangers.
Our attitudes to revenge porn are interesting in this regard. Public opinion often bends towards victim blaming. The emergence of deepfakes and now AI generated porn-in-your-image might challenge this attitude. We think we have control over our image, over what we choose to share. Or we are fatalistic and excuse over sharing because we are in a “surveillance society”. My opinion is that we need to be more vigiliant and considerate as communities. There is a need to watch the watchers as Cyrus Farivar describes in worrying detail in his book. We all need to become guardians of each other’s privacy. We need to understand that people have different risk and threat models. That posting a picture of an attractive man on the internet or a summer party can put those featured in grave danger. We also expose ourselves to risks when medical or other organizations mine social media for information about us all.
As a society, as individual community and group members, we have to be ethical with what we post online. As a British person, Debretts has excellent basic advice that I adore. We have to see oversharing without consent as a form of assault. A way of causing harm or suffering indirectly but very seriously. The planebae twitter thread which I refuse to add more traffic to, is an excellent example. One passenger’s desire for attention grew and she even encouraged her followers to do osint on another passenger. What was at first a mildly entertaining tweet became a thread that harrassed a young woman off social media and got her death threats. This is a form of assault. The two victims in this story had their images shared without consent, their location shared. It took a while for public opinion to shift on this story. Several major news networks covered this as funny. Yet the same networks will doubtless run stories on stalking and domestic abuse soon.
We could consider recent complaints about crowd shots without consent at conferences as a good example. Attendees are in a public space. Security cameras watch them, they register and often have to wear badges with personal information. Yet as with most public events, there is always a photo policy. A code of conduct, even unwritten. Official photographers at schools, concerts and other events are given permission by those involved to capture and use their image. There should be clear opt out clauses for those who do not wish to be filmed or photographed. It is relatively easy for an individual to control what an official photographer publishes and request removal of an image. It is considerably less easy to even be aware of a public post on a stranger’s Instagram.
Many events now either have express warnings about photography or provide colored lanyards to denote a wish for privacy. It is a shame that this is still not respected. It is a deeper shame that it is even required. Event photographers ask for consent and clearly state willingness to remove images. Sadly we do not offer each other such respect. It should become normal to ask anyone “may I take this photo?” or “may I identify you?”. We should object to disrespectful behavior in professional and social circles. We should demand that tagging a person or adding them to a group should be strictly opt in. An individual should not have to constantly reasess their privacy settings or have confrontations with friends.
It is often a confrontation. I have experienced stalking and intimate partner abuse. So my worldview is somewhat clouded and jaded perhaps. I have experienced conflict with people who tagged me in images for events I was not even attending. Even being mentioned can be an issue. We drag and drop each other into unwanted attention and situations. We assault them with our vanity and ego and carelessness. Simply put, we do not have a right to anyone else’s image or online profile.
Just like crossing a street, we should stop and think and listen before we take a photo, film and then post online or tag someone. Regardless of how reckless or unafraid we may feel about our own online profile. There is no need to take crowd shots, to identify our friends in every act they do with us. So much of this stems from a desire we all have to be recognized and seen as happy and popular. I have been as guilty of this as anyone. I think the saying “Facebook is where you lie to your friends, Twitter is where you are honest with strangers” is true. We have been encouraged, manipulated into oversharing. It benefits no one but the watchers, those who seek to use our information. It also endangers the very people we may be seeking to show love and affection for by tagging. The best love, the best life is increasingly one lived large but quietly and discreetly. The finer details, secrets and acts kept close. Especially if they are not yours alone to share. So lie and be #blessed or #sohappy but do it with caution, not geolocation.