Indeed, the 21st century has afforded us to live so comfortably and well-connected with everyone – be they near or far – it’s sometimes hard to take on an objective perspective. However, one must always keep in mind that just as there are great qualities, the not-so-great ones can still be present, if misused.
Think about it. Often a time, it feels like we’re being ‘watched’ by our phone – the very gadget we treat like a 5th limb! Visited a clothes shop recently? Suddenly you’re bombarded with ads about that very shop …quite an eerie feeling, but certainly unsurprising! Perhaps Orwell was onto something in his foreboding novel, and Google, Facebook and all our other socials are the latter day ‘Big Brother’ who’s watching us.
So, while technology brings with it great things, it can equally impede on our sense of security and thus, privacy. It is for this very reason, anonymity is something that many of us still actively seek. Because in a world where we’re incessantly feeling exposed, clinging onto that little bit of secrecy is important.
Take a mundane example of playing at an online casino. If you choose to sign up to a provider, you’re generally asked to input personal information for security purposes, as part of the operator’s KYC process. However, if you consider yourself the kind of person who prefers to keep certain information to yourself, it’s actually possible to register at an anonymous casino, with no need for registration.
This right for anonymity as well as the value of privacy and security are being appreciated even more nowadays, especially since we’re living in an age where our private lives can be made public anytime. Although this might sound alarming, it’s crucial to maintain a balanced perspective that recognizes both the pros and cons of technological advancements, so that we can take the necessary precautions to safeguard our privacy (as far as possible) while at the same time capitalizing on the benefits of technological progress.
Weighing advanced technological features in the balance
There’s no denying that technology has robbed us of our privacy, especially through various tracking features that can have access to our private information. Our smartphone knows where we are, what we’re searching for, what we’re working on, what we’re sharing, and a whole lot of other information. At the same time, there are benefits we can enjoy by virtue of this very fact. Let’s go through the pros and cons of this dualism.
We all know that our smartphones can have access to our location. Apart from tracking our whereabouts, our location data is saved in an insecure format on our devices. Then if we sync our device to any computer, that computer will have our data which is also accessible. If we lose our device, anyone who finds it would be able to see where we’ve been in the past year, from the time the operating system with this capability was released.
At the same time, we also know that having a GPS is highly convenient. We appreciate the benefits of a GPS when we’re abroad, where we’re only able to get from one place to another through this system. And what about quickly finding our way to a friend’s house, locating a restaurant when we’re hungry, or simply finding our way when we’re lost?
When we click on ‘Accept Cookies’ on visiting a web page, we’d be giving it access to our browsing history. As unwelcome as this might be, the way you can protect yourself is by regularly clearing your cache to erase your browsing history. However, this comes with an inconvenience in that search results would take longer to be delivered and they will be less tailored to your individual preferences. Therefore, if you have spent a considerable amount of time searching for a website, then you clear your cache, you may need to go through the whole search process the next time you’d want to have access to that site once again. It’s a double-edged sword, really.
Remote desktop applications
These applications have made our lives much easier as we can now access our work computers remotely. But the downside to this added convenience is that we must give up some privacy for such applications to work optimally. If, say, you pair your device with a colleague’s for work purposes, your colleague would be able to access and edit most of the features in your computer (even those that aren’t work related).
Social media tracking
As fun as it may be to receive validation for anything that you share on social media, it is also true that the more you share, the more you’re giving up your privacy. And don’t think that if you delete a post, it will be gone forever. There’s always a way through which someone can retrieve what you have shared even after you delete it. The upside to this is that you’re in full control of what and how much you share on social media.
The benefits of technological progress
Despite the downsides of technological progress and the limit to our privacy, we cannot leave the benefits unmentioned. Ironically, although advanced technological features rob us of our privacy, at the same time they allow us a degree of privacy and anonymity as well. The following are some of the ways in which our privacy is ensured thanks to technology.
The possibility of receiving personal data in private communication
There was a time when exam results were published on notice boards so that in the process of checking how you fared in an exam, you could also pry at the marks of fellow students in your course. Thanks to technology, we can now receive such information privately in our emails. Apart from added privacy, this also affords us the convenience of accessing our private data, such as health records, from the comfort of our home and we can have access to them anytime we like.
The possibility of searching for any information privately
Gone are the days when we had to look up information on bulky encyclopedias or ask relatives or friends for an explanation. We can now google any question, even a really silly or awkward one, without anyone knowing what we’d like to find out.
The perks of communicating with friends and family in private
Do you remember how awkward it was, before emails and cell phones came around, to receive a call on your office telephone, with no way of concealing the conversation from the rest of the office? Now we can simply send a text message or a quick email without anyone knowing.
Thanks to technology, there’s also the possibility of remaining anonymous while expressing yourself freely, which might also act as a way of holding corporations, governments, and other institutions accountable.
To sum up, as with anything else, there are two sides to the same phenomenon. While technology has its own benefits, allowing us our fair share of convenience and, to an extent, affording us some privacy, it can only be seen as the ‘enemy’ if not properly used.