Tuesday, 18 November 2014

R.I.P PRIVACY - Anjan Behera, Asst. Professor, Department of English



“My life had changed overnight. No longer could I ignore Whatsapp messages and pretend that my battery had been down… thanks to Whatsapp’s silent update - the double blue tick.” With new apps and social networking sites dominating our lives, how much of our personal space can we really call ‘private’?
R.I.P PRIVACY

My life had changed overnight. No longer could I ignore Whatsapp messages and pretend that my battery had been down, or that my phone was hanging more than Atal Behari Vajpayee’s speech. Gone were the days when I could blame poor BSNL or Airtel networks for my snobbishness, and escape the tyranny of responding to dumb messages like some godforsaken puppy’s image, or the most offensive racist and sexist jokes. My etiquette is now under strict scrutiny, thanks to Whatsapp’s silent update- the double blue tick. A single tick means the message is sent, double tick shows the message is received by the recipient’s handset, and a double blue tick means the message has been read. In a matter of seconds, our privacy had been violated, and social media had reached yet another milestone.
Whatsapp Messenger is a proprietary, cross-platform instant messaging subscription service for smartphones and selected feature phones that uses the internet for communication. Simply put, it is a messenger app that allows text messaging as well as sending images, video, and audio media messages as well as their location using integrated mapping features. Whatsapp Inc. was founded in 2009 by Brian Acton and Jan Koum, both former employees of Yahoo!. The company is based in Mountain View, California and employs 55 people.
Whatsapp revolutionized instant messaging by automatically adding users from one’s contact list. Its hassle free usage and minimal internet requirement added on to its advantages that made it the most popular IM app. Whatsapp in India is free because payment for it requires Google Money, an app for money transactions which is still unavailable in India. The app auto-renews itself at the end of the subscription period. As of October 2014, Whatsapp has crossed 70 million monthly active users in India, which is 10% of its total user base.
Facebook and other social networking sites freely access our albums, messages, call history, camera, GPS information and contacts. This means that even our phone is no longer private and that is a genuine problem! Comparatively, Whatsapp is a preferred app since it did not display information about whether messages had been read. It also had, and still has the option of blocking out people not in the contact list of one’s phone to check one’s profile picture, time last logged in, and profile name. One can also block users. However, all of this has changed with the recent acquisition of the app by Facebook Inc. With more of our private lives on display, I can’t help but wonder whatever happened to privacy?
Whatsapp isn’t the only application to be blamed. Apps like Instagram, Facebook, Hike Messenger, WeChat, and others have given us a chance to display our private lives on the broad spectrum. Instagram made everyone a self-declared photographer, where photography was mainly, if not always, that of a dish about to be gulped down. Mundane life becomes an eventful life. The hashtags and geotagging would supply information about where and when the picture had been taken pinpointing the exact location of the user. Facebook also allowed geotagging of status messages and posts. In 2013, the New York Police Department (NYPD) attributed social networking to several cases of tracking down criminals and missing people.
But perhaps these apps and sites are not the sole culprit. I mean let’s face it, I created a Facebook profile, I shared my photographs and locations for the world to see, I allowed display of my content to strangers. Do I then really want privacy? Psychologist Andrew Thorne of the Massachusetts Psychiatry Institute is of the opinion that ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ on Facebook and other social networking sites provide constant and instant gratification. “It is like someone patting you on the back, saying ‘job well done’.” And let’s face it; we all do appreciate a little bit of flattery. Is that why we display our lives for everyone to see? It is hard to admit, but we do find happiness being scrutinized positively by others. But another side of this argument is that social networking is now a trend, a basic custom set for us by the postmodern nouveau riche youth dominated society. Can we afford to not participate in this sharing of information and be classified as the networking subaltern?
Perhaps then privacy is a thing of the past. We stand on the brink of a new era. If history is any indicator, we have already been allowing technology to dictate our lives. There was a time when we could share images on social media and keep it limited to a handful of people. However, with every update, Facebook automatically relaxes policies, Instagram keeps my images public, Twitter forces me to read paid content, games force me to pay for upgrades despite having purchased a working game. Ads pop up based on my browsing history suggesting me content I didn’t even know I wanted to access. Google pops up search results based on browsing history, while Facebook suggests pages based on the groups I belong to. This means our entire online activity is actually being recorded. Recorded by whom? Why exactly? How much of data is actually recorded? No one knows.

The New York Daily Newspaper on 16th November 2014 reported that a man in Saudi Arabia was granted a divorce because his wife ignored his messages on Whatsapp. The transcript of their chat history was submitted as evidence in court where the blue ticks betrayed the “innocent” testimony of the wife. What is of interest to me here is the fact that laws are considering and even accepting ignored IM messages as legitimate grounds for a divorce. Are we starting to take IMing and Social Networking a little too seriously? Our ancestors would probably sit under trees and gossip about which girl is having an affair with which boy, and which wife is spending more time on her makeup than her family. We all do the exact same, except the medium is now a polished and modern app whose usage puts us in the category of the tech-savvy elite. What constitutes as privacy is no longer apparent, and all we can do is wait and watch as the world slips into this new era where the internet knows more about us than we do ourselves.

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