Why Spying Will Make Us Communities Again

Why Spying Will Make Us Communities Again

Over the last few weeks I’ve had lots of practice at feeling awkward for strangers. There always seems to be a new, uneasy revelation in the news about someone’s privacy being invaded. Around the world and in my own neighborhood privacy breaches seem to abound and as these various pieces of information are aired I keep thinking sooner or later people will figure out that what they really want is more face to face time with their neighbours and colleagues. Although the technology to end it may be in the works, I pleased to say that I think it’s still possible to have a private conversation in person. I suppose if I’m giving credit where credit is due, then I’ll tip my hat to Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning for our new found need to engage with real people.  After all, it was their efforts that made us realize that “private” isn’t what is used to be.

As I watch the coverage of the American diplomatic incident that left Washington distinctly uncomfortable and the Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, apologizing for saying, “Fu@$ the European Union” in what she thought was a private telephone conversation, I can’t help but think she’ll be having more face to face meetings in the future. I bet German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, whose cell phone was bugged by the U.S., is also thinking about having more face to face meetings too. Their experiences should certainly make us all consider the value of always being on our best behaviour.

Of course now that Canadian travellers know that their cell phones have been picked up and tracked for days after they had walked through Canadian airports they can feel a little like these powerful political leaders, invaded. Just like their more famous counterparts, the records of all of their calls and emails have been captured by government entities, in the case of Canadians; the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) did the work.

Now we too can think twice about what we say on our cell phones or using them at all.  I haven’t carried one for two weeks and rather than feeling disconnected or untethered, I find myself strangely more in the moment wherever I am.  It could be because no one can call, text or email me to disrupt the moment and I’m not disrupting it by looking at my phone for messages.

Don’t get me wrong.  My decision to not carry a cell phone isn’t a political statement. I don’t have one because I changed positions and haven’t sorted out if I actually want or need one. The recent revelations have simply added to the debate. What occurs to me is that we wouldn’t have to worry about our cellphones being bugged if we didn’t rely on them so much.

More than anything I worry that as more private exchanges are released for public consumption we will start to normalize these intrusions into our privacy. In many respects we already have. Target, Shoppers Drugmart and many other retailers send me specialized coupons based on the things I have purchased while by myself in their stores. Facebook tells me they own my content on their platform, Google tells me they are making my online experience more effective by tracking every move I make and the government tells me they are keeping me safe. As someone in marketing I can’t help but appreciate what can be done with all of that information, but I also know some simple truths.  Knowledge is power and all of that knowledge is an awful lot of power for very few people.  No one needs to know everything about me and I certainly don’t need to know everything about complete strangers. There’s also that small detail about the ethics of intrusion.

Perhaps I’m looking at this all wrong. As a friend of mine pointed out, privacy as we recently knew it was a relatively new construct.  Having grown up in a West Indian family, I know that there is very little that is private in a real community.  I could track the movements of my cousins in Montreal while visiting in Barbados and that is before Facebook, social media or the Internet.  My family never needed spyware to figure out what was going on with family members around the world. Perhaps all this spying and gathering of data is simply a reflection of a very natural human instinct to know. Of course, I actually knew the people “spying” on me and their incursions into my privacy really did keep my world much safer and of course they were never trying to sell me something.

So, whether these privacy breeches are natural, abnormal or just plain creepy, it makes me think it’s time for more dinner parties.  Perhaps we should think about recreating the old fashioned salons, those gatherings intended to entertain and teach.  Those intimate exchanges where the cell phones and laptops are left behind.  I’m not suggesting the abandonment of contemporary media, I am a blogger after all and I make my living in communications and marketing, but maybe a little less time online and a little more time in the world around us would be good, not all of our communities need to be virtual.

What do you think, too much time spying?  Is it time to spend more time in person? Should we just get used to having less privacy?

Image courtesy of adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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About Debra Yearwood

Experienced communications and public relations executive who manages challenges with an eye on outcomes and a sense of humour. Learn more about how I think at https://commstorm.com/ Learn more about my experience at ca.linkedin.com/in/debrayearwood/
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36 Responses to Why Spying Will Make Us Communities Again

  1. theJenWeaver says:

    Privacy is a hot topic. I like spending time in person over using technology, however I enjoy the benefits of technology when I cannot reach someone face to face. Thanks for sharing your post!

    • Jen, I’m thinking that we will eventually get passed our current preoccupation with privacy, but I wonder if it will be because we shut down and become more reclusive or if it will be because we stop caring who knows what we are up to.

  2. becc03 says:

    Even if we did start doing more face to face, there would still be Big Brother watching. This intrusion will never go away. I guess in one way it doesn’t bother me as I am an open book pretty much, but then what would happen if your private thoughts that you would only share with a very trusted few were shared. I don’t think I would like that.
    In Government I think that they are pretty stupid to think any conversation they have is private. As long as there is one person receiving the information, then the information just became public. You can’t trust anyone, so you should be treading very carefully I would think.

    • Becc, like you, I’m a little amazed that people in senior political positions would assume anything about their privacy. While I may not think spying is a great practice, I at least expect it to be a practice. 🙂

  3. Krystle Cook says:

    It is def good to get out in the real world without electronics sometimes. One of the reasons I love cruising.

  4. TheGirl says:

    Spying, information gathering, market research, intelligence, whatever you call it, it will only get worse especially as technology gets better. And what is it used for? Everything from public policy to identity theft….

    • Kind of makes you wonder why we keep putting our information out there, at least the bits that we can control. At the end of the day, although we love our privacy and don’t want to be spied on, we are social creatures.

  5. Hi Debra – Taking your thoughts and observations, along with those in the comments, brings me to the reality of the tv show, Person of Interest, where cameras and audio devices in every nook and cranny capture, catalog and correlate our every movement and utterance.

    Data mining is not just a reality, it’s big business, whether private and commercial or governmental and world-changing. There would be no need to invade our privacy if there were no takers or buyers on the other side of the equation.

    Like you and others have said, we’ve given up bits and pieces of ourselves in order to participate in the technology revolution. Dinner parties, face-to-face and off-grid conversations are some ways to get bits of our pieces back. Unplugging entirely is the only other way. — Vernessa Taylor @CoachNotesBlog

    • Very true Vernessa, if I wanted total privacy I would not live as I do. I think what I’d like is a little less transparency, a little less invasion. Even as a marketer I don’t want total transparency. There is something appealing about trying to get inside the head of my target market without having all the information handed to me on a platter.

  6. Privacy is largely a recent social construct as you’ve mentioned. We avail ourselves to the world by embracing a myriad of devices, but then complain as a society when someone listens in. The old saying of not being able to have your cake and eat it too seems to apply. If I didn’t make a concentrated effort to lay off the computer and SmartPhone over the weekends, I would definitely feel more disconnected than I already do. Thanks to social media it can seem like we know everything, but yet nothing about each other. I’m all for more dinner parties too 🙂

    • Jeri, I did have an overwhelming sense of irony (and humour) that I was commenting on our lack of privacy in a completely open forum. It’s hard to divorce yourself from your own reality. I’ll settle for taking little breaks from the constant transparency. 🙂

  7. Glynis Jolly says:

    Debra, you had me giggling a little when you stated how you knew what your family was up to.

    I’m wondering what privacy people aren’t getting but once had. True, technology has opened the gates but we decide whether we want our doors opened to it or not. There have been times when I have cussed online or on the phone, but nothing very serious though because I know that those conversations are easily repeated without knowing who is passing my words around. And it isn’t just cell phones; it’s landlines too. It’s alway been this way. It wasn’t until the 1950s that most homes had a telephone and even back then, people didn’t say things over the phone that they might say in person. They know that someone else may get a hold of what they said.

    I’m hoping that you’re right about all this, that it’s creating a atmosphere of community by making us converse more face to face. I’m not so sure though. Facebook and other social media sites make it easy to create enemies even within families.

    • Glynis I think that we will become more careful about what we say and where. I have never been much of a fan of Facebook, though I know it serves useful purposes, so I stay away from getting into too much commentary there. LinkedIn is much more interesting to me because the conversations tend to be on a less personal level. I think if we change the way we behave in just minor ways then we can retain some of our privacy.

  8. parrillaturi says:

    Great post, and very informative. I have done my share of spying in the pats. Won’t say how, but thanks to what has been revealed, I have become more transparent, but in a sneaky way. Those around me have no clue as to whether I’m coming,or going. Keeps them off balance. I watch what I say, how much I diverge, etc.I have become much more aware that life is not, business as usual. Thanks. Blessings.

    • A friend of mine did some spying way back when. At first I found it hard to believe, but then I realized the very thing that made her good at it was that she was so friendly and able to get people talking. 🙂

  9. There is absolutely no privacy and I’m starting to think what can you do about it. I guess there a sort of a trade off but I’m sure I like it.

  10. This is what freaks me out – I go to Target, buy a bunch of stuff and with my receipt I am handed coupons that relate to my purchases. Good marketing, or someone tracking my every move? As far as social media is concerned – you agree to Terms & Conditions before you sign on. Most don’t read them and don’t care. Until you realize, via reading an article or blog like this that Facebook and Google Plus know your every move. Simple solution – don’t get involved if you don’t want your privacy invaded. Stop complaining and sign off, for good.
    Politically, one of my boundaries is not discussing politics, policy, etc in the public stream. So we will leave it at that.
    Totally enjoyed your post!

    • I have to admit it did strike me as funny complaining about the lost of privacy in a completely public environment. I suppose it’s a question of wanting the best of all worlds.

      There is a beautiful story that circulates in the marketing community about Target being so perceptive in determining not only what you might want buy, but why you want it that that they were able to determine that a 16 year old was pregnant before her parents did. It all came out when the dad complained to the store manager about the inappropriate nature of the ads they were sending to his daughter (new mommy oriented). When the manager went to apologize, the father sheepishly admitted that he had recently found out that his daughter was pregnant. Talk about getting into your private business.

  11. It’s a trade-off, Debra. shoppers Drug mart sends you coupons for stuff you use because you use their Optimum Card when you make a purchase in order to get “points.” so we give up our privacy, when we agree to play somebody’s game. The issue with the cell phones being tracked from the Canadian airport (I’m assuming it was Pearson?) is somewhat alarming, but in some ways, comforting to know they can track the bad guys of they have to. Again, a trade-off.

    • I agree Doreen. I’m not about to give up that loyalty card and I haven’t turned my nose up at the coupons either. As to the cell phone tracking, my challenge is the number of people captured in the activity and that they continued to track usage days after people passed through the airport. Finding a healthy balance is no small challenge, but I’m not comfortable giving carte blanche in the name of safety either.

  12. As much as I dislike the idea of no more privacy, I also think we need to change our focus to true transparency. The media started the trend with the need to dig up celebrity secrets and all that nonsense. The trick here and the people it hurts the most are the ones who refuse to be open of what it is they are doing.

    • My worry Jon is that there are enough fanatics out there to take advantage of the transparency and act to do harm. Of course my comment assumes we have some sort of control, which we don’t. 🙂

  13. Aw, the spying debate. The fact is, spying has been a fact of life for as long as humans have existed. It’s just more complicated now with all our new found tech world of communication.

    I have long since given up the idea of privacy in the intellectual sense. I find it laughable that people are insensed about all the revelations on the privacy invasions when our credit card companies far out pace any of that. Besides, there is nothing I say or do on my phone or online that’s really that interesting… LOL.

    As far as having more face to face time to communicate? I think it’s high time we make that a reality. I think there would be much less misunderstanding and conflict if that were a part of our daily lives. Just my thoughts for the moment.

    • Susan, pardon the poor paraphrasing but, no surprise you show the wisdom to change the things you can, ignore those you can’t and have enough sense to know the difference. I guess it’s about balance. 🙂 As to the face to face time, it’s all good. It’s the distance that makes us callous.

  14. I don’t like Google spying what I do online. I used to search for crochet a lot, and now I am not looking for it. Google is still trying to show me more of the yarn stuff, when I am not interested with ads. Some of the websites that come first in my searches will not come in the first page at all if I am searching it from my husband’s laptop. Have anyone noticed that too?

    • Bindhurani, the ads that pop up everywhere I go online, drive me mad. I find particularly creepy the ones that show up to correlate with my e-mail exchanges.

      • Lorraine Marie Reguly says:

        You can get an extension called Adblock for your computer, if that’s what you’re using to look online! I use it on my Chrome browser and have no problems with ads.

        On another note, Debra, one thing you didn’t mention about privacy here is the use of cameras. They are pretty much everywhere…

        • Got it (Adblock)! Thank you Lorraine!

          Good point about the cameras, they are definitely ever present, but at least I know they are there and they have been used to capture criminals that might otherwise have gotten away.

  15. Erica says:

    I recently wrote a paper about a similar topic – VERY interesting stuff. Definitely makes you think twice about what we’re doing with our lives, and privacy is definitely a major issue in today’s fast-paced highly-technological world. Consider this: All of the technology – or more specifically, all of the screen-time – we’re exposed to these days has a major effect on the way we see the world.

    In the past, people used all of their senses rather equally to engage in technology (technology being anything from hammers & nails to guns to iphones to shovels), whereas this generation was raised on televisions, computers, hand-held gaming consoles, smartphones, movies theaters, screens-as-billboards and so on. We’re constantly bombarded with it, thus distancing ourselves from the way we use to be. We now use one sense far more frequently than the rest (it’s also worth mentioning that we do so quite passively, which also has an effect on the way we generate thought). This creates an imbalance in the human sensorium which actually produces an entirely new stream of consciousness. A new way of processing thought, which isn’t even on the same wave-length as the generations preceding us. We learn, think, engage, communicate, and live in an entirely different state of mind, while most of the institutions that “control” us have out-dated practices, methods, and guidelines simply because they haven’t caught up yet. The systems are out-dated, and they aren’t able to assess the problems that come with technology effectively. For example: I’m sure most teachers would tell you that they have trouble using the tried-and-true teaching methods from the past.

    I think awareness is crucial, especially due to the speed at which new gadgets are making their way into our lives. We need to start paying attention to what’s happening and how we’re being affected so that we can make the appropriate adjustments and implement suitable regulations. Privacy perhaps being the most important of all factors requiring more effective adaptations.

    But I digress, the paper I wrote was indeed written on my computer with plenty of breaks to check my phone between paragraphs, submitted to an anti-plagiarism website that scans my words and compares them with others to ensure originality, and then re-submitted via e-mail to my professor. So, as well-informed and worried as I am, the very first thing I did today (and yesterday, and the day before that) was check my phone, my facebook, my e-mail, and my favorite blogs. I suppose it’s just like I said: VERY interesting stuff 🙂

    • Erica,

      I am captivated by the idea that we think and process ideas in a completely different way than humans in the past. I can appreciate that we have access to a broader array of information, but never gave much thought to how we were receiving that information and how it might impact the way we process and consider ideas, fascinating stuff.

      As one of those people who were born just after the boomers my world changed as I was growing. I was not raised in a world where personal computers were the norm; at best, when I was growing up my access to technology was very passive with the TV being the dominant feature. By the time I was in college I “needed” a computer and every job I’ve had with few exceptions has required that I work with various types of technology every day. It makes me wonder how I process content if I’m straddling worlds. Perhaps it is that dichotomy that makes me write about the challenges inherent in a world so reliant on technology that the invasion of our personal privacy is normal in a medium open to all see and comment on. ☺ We are creatures of our culture.

  16. jacquiegum says:

    Long ago I let go the idea of privacy. If you’ve participated in social media at all, that should be apparent. However, what has recently come to light is the extent of the privacy invasion. While my original reaction was a shoulder shrug…who cares…I’m not doing anything wrong, I’ve come to be more resentful about the data they are mining, have grown suspicious of the need to compile it, and am downright indignant that complete strangers may be aware of my cup size. It’s beyond ridiculous. I think you could be right on the money, that more face to face will probably be born from this over-extension. But will there be a sudden surge in hidden recording devices??? While it may seem to come right out of an old James Bond movie..who’s to say the pen you sign that charge slip with won’t be a recorder????

    • Jacqueline, I am caught, I love the freedom that technology brings me to explore and learn the world. I’ve met some great people online (present company included), but I hate what I give up as a consequence.

      The pen huh? I was thinking the microchip would be imbedded in my credit card. 🙂

  17. Am not happy about how, not only all governments in the world, but Google, Facebook and so forth are spying on us. But we are now living in “Brave New World” and there is no going back.

    The Russians leaked the f**k the European Union conversation. In my opinion the debate about spying concentrates too much on what the West, above all the US, is doing. There isn’t a dictatorship in the world that is not guilty of much worse invasions of privacy. Sometimes with lethal outcomes.

    A huge problem in the West is when intelligence work is outsourced. Independent security contractors, such as the company that Snowden worked for, should not be involved in spying.

    If they hadn’t bugged Merkel’s cell phone they would have placed bugs in her office instead. Am not saying that it’s OK but spying has always been going on and always will. But nowadays you have far too many entities outside government, even criminals, involved. And that’s the new and horrible aspect of it.

    By the way, Julian Assange leaked names and details of citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan who had spied for the US. Don’t need to tell you what happened to them, do I? Would have loved it if Assange could have come up with the kind of information he published not only from the US, but from Syria, Iran and so forth. But he didn’t and never will. Nobody is going to risk being hanged to leak information from there. Instead we have headlines giving the impression that the United States is spying more than any other country in the world. Pity that’s not the case. If it was the world would be a safer place:-)

    • Catarina, I agree, the leaks have been portrayed in a very one-sided manner. It never even occurred to me that it was just about the U.S. spying and I think anyone who believes this is just about the west is naive.

      As to the architects of our awareness, Julien Assange and the rest, despite the value that is brought in us all understanding the depth of privacy invasion that happens around the world, this is not how I would recommend we go about addressing matters. Handcuffing one or two countries, while making it seem all others are innocent achieves nothing. It also completely ignores the fact that most of our privacy is invaded voluntarily by marketers.

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