Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Privacy in the digial age

I just finished an article about how news providers shape our understanding of the news by how they word the headline and which elements of the story they focus on. When I was in grade school (some where between the second and 7th grades) my father sat me down with the two Philadelphia Pennsylvania newspapers and compared the stories. Now it was not quite an even playing field because one was a morning paper the other was published in the late afternoon so sometimes the later paper had new information but usually the differences were editorial choice.

The morning paper might choose to feature a story on page one above the fold - a high focus story, while the evening paper might place the same story on page 2 below the fold - a less important story. One paper might tell the story as a positive change while the other slant it as a negative change.

When I asked my father why the story seem to change, he told me that it was like watching a house being painted. One side is still the old plain white color while the other side is the new green. “It all depends on where you are standing”.

Lets give the writers and editors the benefit of the doubt and accept that they are trying to be objective. They are still prisoners to their own ideas of what the story means and how they think it will impact the readers. Editors, like the rest of us, tend to hire people that fit their “idea” of who will do the work the way the editor thinks it should be done. They tend to feature articles that fit there particular “idea” of how the world works. We are all prisoners of what we think we know and it takes a real effort to break out of that prison of “knowledge”. We’re not talking about hard knowledge such as “rain falls down” but the “the world would be a better place if ...” kind.

The story that started me thinking was about privacy in the new digital world, where our cell phones track our location and so much personal information is on the web for those who know how to find it. We all know that our phones “know” where we are but we rely on the cell provider not to release our whereabouts to third parties. The surprise is when we find out that the phone provider is releasing the information with out asking us for permission in each particular case. In this case, what we know is wrong; that our personal information is ours and only we can grant permission to release it.

The truth is that the fine print in our contract with the phone company grants them permission to give the information to other parties. Exactly who they can release it to is spelled out in the fine print. Unfortunately, it will take the combine power of all the people to change that, and that only happens in the form of government regulation.

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