Edited by: Malavika Suresh
I searched for the definition of ‘privacy’ on Bing (you can judge me all you want for using Bing), and the new AI powered chatbot popped up and gave the following response “I think privacy is the quality or state of being apart from company or observation.” I couldn’t help but laugh, the bot was trying to initiate a conversation on privacy, while simultaneously keeping track of everything I do on the internet.
Growing up, the word ‘privacy’ was nonexistent in my dictionary. I was raised in an Indian household where locking doors is forbidden, a lock screen on the phone is questioned and no information was ever personal. If I tell a secret to my mom, my dad will know about it within the day and will be discussed with their friends “who won’t tell anyone.”
Based on these experiences, I accepted that whatever I say or do will never be private. Only recently have I realised the extent to which this statement holds true. Privacy isn’t just about hiding your boyfriend from your parents; it’s more than that. (Although that situation is an extremely tough task too.)
In the real world, with the presence of CCTV cameras and facial recognition, it is possible to easily recognise someone and track their movements. On 20th January, 2021, the Uttar Pradesh police proposed a terrible and deeply problematic law where they suggested setting up cameras equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) which would automatically take pictures of women. As soon as there are any noticeable signs of distress, the police will be alerted. The law hasn’t been implemented, but there is a very real possibility that the cameras will be and will be used without our knowledge.
In the virtual world, we leave traces of our presence behind in the form of call logs, text message chains, likes, comments and even the time when we were online. The likes, comments are by default public. However, text messages and calls are deemed to be private but they are not. All this data is being stored somewhere, and it isn’t very difficult to locate it. Hindi language television based journalism is proof of the same. Text messages are aired and dissected like a complex problem- despite various Whatsapp encryption updates every year.
How far would I be willing to trade my privacy for the information I want? I don’t know. I need text, calls and social media to look for internships, talk to my friends and laugh at memes. But I also don’t want my conversations to be aired like dirty laundry if I get into “trouble.” I can’t have both, so the only option I have is to be cautious of what I say when I text or call people, and leave the important or controversial topics for in-person conversations. It is a tough task, but a necessary one.
As far as the question related to cookies is concerned, most of the times, I don’t really have a choice. I needed to accept the cookies suggested in ‘The New York Times’ to research for this article. I do have a choice, not to accept them but then I won’t be allowed to access the content and that isn’t a desirable outcome.
Every time I read up on privacy and data collection, I am left confused and quite worried. This is a worldwide phenomenon, it comforts me that I am not alone but scares me that anyone in the world may have access to that information. Whenever we read about challenges faced in history, humans are always victorious. Despite being an optimist, this time, I’m not too sure.