When I read this sentence in a New York Times review of the Apple Watch, I thought of the privacy spectrum of the digital age:
Apple “seems to be pushing a vision of the Watch as a general-purpose remote control for the real world, a nearly bionic way to open your hotel room, board a plane, call up an Uber or otherwise have the physical world respond to your desires nearly automatically.”
That’s the “convenience” end of the spectrum that we all need to be aware is actually not “private” vs. “public.” More than anything else, what “threatens” our personal and data privacy, if we want to think of it in terms of a threat, is our collective (and seemingly growing) addiction to convenience. For example, if for convenience (so we don’t have to go into Settings to get directions to our kid’s play date in real time), we want to have our smartphone’s geolocation capability always turned on, our movements can be tracked. So we’re closer to the Convenience end of the spectrum than the Privacy end. The same goes for flirting or showing off using photo-sharing apps, having the state of our health or a child’s academic performance stored in databases, being able to secure our homes from a distance, and having all our contacts and other info about us and our lives at our fingertips wherever we are.
In many cases the level of “convenience” (or accessibility to multiple parties) is chosen for us. That’s why…
- Parents are objecting to schools, standardized test providers and social media surveillance companies monitoring students’ digital activity (see this report from Politico)
- Parents mobilized like never before for their children’s academic data privacy.
Surveillance that seems so up close and personal is shocking at first encounter, even when we know that academic institutions and test companies engage in it to protect students (from bullying and school shootings) and the integrity of standardized tests. We don’t know how the data’s being used, whether it can be breached or shared with third parties (please see the Politico report for details on the industry that has grown up around student monitoring and state laws aimed at addressing it).
Weighing the value of convenience against the need to protect our personal and data privacy is a key piece of media literacy in this age of big data. Awareness of the tension between the two, consciously choosing the spot on the spectrum that’s right for ourselves and our children, and teaching them the importance of this awareness is a great start.
As for the Apple Watch, it looks like it adds another layer of convenience to the equation without moving wearers further away from the privacy end of the spectrum – unless they use it to share ultra-personal data like vital signs, etc. Otherwise, it’s just a mini smartphone strapped to your body, communicating with you in a new way. As the New York Times’s Farhad Manjoo reports, it’s the first Apple product not instantly easy for the average person to use.
- “Protecting student privacy called for student participation”
- “‘State of the Union’ and the student part of student privacy protection”
- “Of student digital privacy & schools demanding passwords”
- “From ‘big data’ to ‘big parent’: Student privacy developments”
- “FB privacy & the social media ‘collective unconscious’ (so far)”