I recently read an article in Dutch newspaper Volkskrant that mentioned the idea of taking the saliva of all registered dogs. Through their DNA the authorities can trace back the abandoned turds that soil the streets. And once you’ve found the dog, you can also fine his owner. Brilliant idea, I thought. Unfortunately ‘CSI dogshit’ – as it was funnily described by Volkskrant – has a privacy problem. According to the Dutch Law that protects your personal data (“Wet Bescherming Persoonsgegevens”), one is not allowed to link a dog’s saliva to you personally. This implies the dog is a physical extension of us, human beings, and practically means that the dog’s master can’t be forced to let his dog been swabbed for saliva. Strange but true.
Privacy seems one of the buzzwords of the 21st century. Sometimes I get the feeling we are over-spastic in protecting it. I think it shows we’re in an era of transition, culturally adapting to the fact that we live in a digital age, in which information is easily linked and matched.
Since recently there’s a new gadget on the market that has inflamed the fear of losing our privacy; Google Glass. You could describe it as a pair of glasses that is not really a pair of glasses, but a camera hidden behind a small, rectangular HUD (read: ‘Head-up display’) – the one we all know from Terminator.
If we may believe Google Glass’ product demonstration – looking far more attractive than the geeky glasses themselves, for that matter – you only need to speak the words “record a video” to be able to film someone that you just caught in the park not cleaning up after his dog. How handy. Who needs the dog’s DNA!
But since a world with Terminators scares a lot of people, this very first consumer-friendly HUD does too. That’s why a London based group, called Stop the Cyborgs, is now trying to restrict the use of Google’s new toy. To promote their organisation’s cause they introduced a logo that looks like a crossover between Sergey Brin and Bob the Builder – which is a funny coincidence when realizing Brin is an impressive builder indeed. In any case, Stop the Cyborgs predicts an Orwellian future in which privacy will become a scarce good.
Well, I am afraid I have bad news for Stop the Cyborgs. The fact of the matter is that already for a long time we’ve been slowly but surely moving towards the metaphorical year 1984. To give a few examples; We are traceable through our mobile phones; the TV format Big Brother – you can guess where it got its name from – films people while having sex; On Facebook people share what we eat, where we eat it, and who we eat it with, and cyber cookies make the toaster we’ve been checking out online haunt us forever throughout the internet. All voluntarily? Maybe. But we can also check out each other’s houses on Google Maps, the US have my fingerprints in their database – even though I’ve never let my dog shit on the President’s lawn – and to make things much worse; public live is already infested with (mobile) cameras – attached to buildings and people.
This movement towards our personal data becoming more public doesn’t mean that our privacy is disappearing; it just means that the meaning of the word privacy is changing. Similar to how the meaning of ‘communication’ is constantly changing – everything is instant now. To look at this change from a brighter site; scarcer goods are more valuable, so you could also turn things around and say; the less privacy we have, the more we’ll enjoy it.