On Privacy

Back when I was in university, one of my favourite things to do was to sit at the top of the lecture hall and try and figure out what kind of computers people were using. This was happening just as the smartphone wars between iOS and Android were heating up, so aside from the odd iPhone and Blackberry here and there, there wasn't much going on in that space.

I loved figuring out what versions of operating systems people were using, and the applications that went with them. I eventually got to be so good at doing that that it stopped being fun. That's when I shifted my attention to the then and now maturing smartphone market. Nine times out of ten, I can figure out what phone someone is using (because nine times out of ten it's either a Galaxy or iPhone).

With that, combined with my natural curiosity, I began to watch what people were doing on their phones. It's incredibly fascinating, seeing what apps people are using, how they've organized their home screen, and if they're the type of people to obsessively close their apps every five seconds. It's sort of my way of studying how other people work and go about their days, but mostly it's because I'm nosy in the most harmless sense of the word.

Every once in a while, during my over-the-shoulder glances into people's lives, I'll be dropped into something immensely personal and private. I've seen people send silly faces over Snapchat, a guy texting his parole officer, a girl breaking up with her boyfriend, and another person watching videos that can only be described as inappropriate for a public setting. 

And to be clear, none of these individuals are monsters - I am. I am the person who is willingly and knowingly peering into their lives and invading what they believe to be private moments. I mean, consider all the people you've ever run into who have talked loudly in public spaces regarding private and personal matters. If you talk in public, then yes, you deserve to be eavesdropped upon. Typing should feel different from that, but when you have a large, glowing rectangle pointed in my direction, you have to expect that I will see some of what you're typing away. That being said, I am a monster. I think.

What's odd to me is how the once very clear lines have blurred so heavily. We now do work from home, and personal stuff at home. Everything happens everywhere, and it all happens on our phones now. These little devices contain our entire lives, pushing the boundaries of what we consider private and public to the point of nearly destroying them. We post so many things on Facebook and Snap so much more; the question is where do we draw this line between private and public? Who is allowed to watch and who isn't? The problem here is that our phones make everything feel so immediate and of higher importance that we no longer think about where we are or what we're doing.

I've been thinking about privacy a lot over the last few months. For the first time in what seems like essentially ever, people are starting to seriously think about the implications of having these tiny, pocketable super computers that know everything about you. We have cameras that are on, paired with smart speakers in our living rooms, always listening to what we say. They say that their memories are short, but how can we be certain?

That's not to say that this isn't a tough question to mentally grapple with. Am I subject to your rules and surveillance every time I visit you at your house? Am I allowed to cover up any cameras with tape if they make me feel uncomfortable? So much of ourselves is now out there floating around, constantly being captured and stored, waiting to be presented to the whole world. 

Ultimately, each of us is allowed a reasonable expectation of privacy, but that's up to us to determine how much of that is actually in our control. Over the last year, I took the appropriate steps to enable multi-factor authentication on everything, from my Facebook to Twitter to Google accounts, and have only begun convincing my family members to do the same. Email has always had an unofficial mantra - never send anything you wouldn't want anyone to see, so if you're really trying to be private, maybe don't send things over email. It may seem trivial and silly, but we really should hold ourselves and our tech to one standard - that you are in control of your sense of self and privacy. The two go hand in hand. If you don't want people to overhear your business, then maybe don't talk loudly about it in public. Or, at the very least, look around to make sure no one is watching or listening every once in a while.

I don't think that anyone of us has really spent the time to think these things through, including their possible ramifications. Maybe with this new Presidency, in all of its insecure glory, now is the time to do so.

In the mean time, if you find anyone creeping your text messages, it's probably me.