Lack of Privacy as a Celebration of Life
We watched a BBC documentary about privacy last night called Erasing David. Basically, the guy in the film tries to disappear for a month and not be found by two private investigators -- all they know about him is his name and they have one photo of him.
The name of the film is a little misleading as he doesn’t really try to erase his past, or even his present for that matter. He just tries to hide where he is by paying cash for hotels and borrowing a friends car. He didn't delete any online info, and he even used his own cell phone.
The investigators search through LinkedIn to find a film maker named David Bond who looks like the photo they have, and then they start building from there getting his home address, his wife’s name, his kid’s name, everyone’s birthdays…
Pretty much everything they find is publicly available, and in this day of Social Media and self promotion, it’s not surprising. The investigators do get tricky at one point and get more information out of Health Services than they should have, but a man on the phone with all the details like birthdays and addresses can prove enough of his identity to get a bit more, and that’s the scary part.
But the privacy scare aside, I found myself thinking… It would be even more frightening if David could have completely erased himself. Being part of society means interacting with it, touching other lives, and leaving tracks.
As I seem to say an awful lot, it’s not the technology. Private investigators used to go to pub and ask around. “Oh, yeah, David. His mum lives up the street on the corner.” If someone is part of the community then the community will have some kind of memory of him, whether that memory is found on a profile page or over a pint.
What I think is troubling is the definition of “community.” Online community is not the same thing as your physical community. But they’re both real-world communities and you leave your mark when you visit your community, either online or at the farmer’s market in the park.
So, in one sense, I’m glad that the investigators were able to find so much about David. It’s a validation of his existence, of his interaction with life and other living human beings. Not a revelation of some cold, lifeless machine with sinister plots for us.