In the digital age, hidden among the desire to overshare every detail of our lives, we simultaneously want privacy. That doesn’t seem to make sense, but it is true. We want to share, but we want to ensure whoever we send our messages or photos to are the only ones who will see it. We don’t want to be haunted by our digital shadows.
The Scare–Our Digital Skeletons
It began with people losing their jobs over social media. What one thought was a funny post or just a harmless Facebook rant shared with friends and followers soon ended up in the hands of a boss–and ended with a pink slip.
Then came the hacks. First in 2014, nude photos of more than 25 Hollywood celebrities were leaked, apparently stolen from their iCloud accounts. Sony was hacked later in the year, with hackers releasing loads of private emails, and effectively causing chaos in the company. Then Ashley Madison, the infamous infidelity sight, was dramatically hacked, releasing names, email accounts, and credit card numbers of users.
In light of this, people are left to wonder, is anything really private? Where can we safely put our information? Can anything be permanently deleted, or can a digital skeleton be pulled from a “cloud” closet and be shown to the world? Or our digital footprint always going to be at risk of being exposed to everyone without our consent?
The Rise of Disappearing Social Media
Enter Snapchat. Snapchat lets users send photos, videos, and texts–all which disappear after the recipient views them. Gone. Deleted from Snapchat’s servers forever. People seemed to love the idea. Disappearing pictures. Suddenly we could overshare everything we wanted— our food, the embarrassing dance off at a party, anything really– and wouldn’t have to worry about it ending up in the hands of our boss or being shown to those we didn’t want to see it. It now has over 100 million monthly users.
But there was still a problem: a small chance our privacy could be destroyed. People could take screenshots. Yes, your embarrassing photo could be captured and saved forever. Or your texts for that matter. We’ve all done it. We’ve all screenshotted something a friend sent us and sent it to someone else. Billionaire Mark Cuban has a solution. His messaging app, Cyber Dust, not only has Snapchat’s disappearing feature, but also prohibits screenshots while using the app.
And with disappearing social media, we’ve been given exactly what we want: a way to overshare but still have privacy.
Encrypting Everything–Should We?
Now people want to assure their messages are always private, and encryption is becoming a standard feature of messaging apps. Whatsapp has a Textsecure feature to be certain only you and those you send your messages to can see them. Just recently, Signal was released for Android, endorsed by a polarizing figure on the theme of digital privacy and security, Edward Snowden, promising no one will access your private messages. Period.
While we may be thrilled to have increasingly private ways to share as much as we want, not everyone is exactly pleased by this technological trend. Governments are furious. The FBI has warned the American Congress encryption will decimate their ability to track domestic terrorists. The British Prime Minister has proposed banning Whatsapp in the country, because he warns the encrypted messaging feature will give terrorists a “safe space” to communicate. Police also worry if they cannot subpoena messages, they will not be able to obtain critical evidence for many court cases. They believe privacy may be a road block to public safety.
Privacy in the Age of Oversharing
For now, technology is allowing you to keep sharing as much as you want, without the worry of it following you into the future. We may desire to tell everyone about our experiences, but we at heart want to know we have control over who sees the digital us. Our digital selves want privacy too.
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