Saturday, May 25Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

When did we decide our privacy is overrated?

Ever since the creation and implementation of mass surveillance, whether that be through extensive CCTV networks or even drones attached with cameras, we have been slowly losing our right to privacy. Only last year, the Investigatory Powers Act, known informally as the ‘Snoopers’ Charter’, was passed by Parliament. This allows government agencies to gain access to the information from phones, computers networks and a vast array of other electronic devices whether the user wants them to or not and potentially spy on them. Terrifying, yes, but are we really surprised? After all, we’ve been slowly forsaking our own privacy for years now anyway.

You might say that that’s ridiculous, but hear me out, because it may not be as strange as it sounds. Social media has undeniably exploded in the last decade – Facebook alone has almost 2 billion active members. Every photo you upload and every status you’re tagged in is seen by all of your ‘friends’. They know when your birthday is, where you like to spend time and where you work. And, with a little time and effort, they could even work out where you live. In fact, depending on your privacy settings, anyone could start to work out who you are.

This isn’t designed to make you paranoid, or become a hermit who throws their phone out of a window. It is worth noting though that, if you post it online, the chances are someone will see it. Sometimes you have to consider whether you want your holiday stories scrolled through by that random guy you added on Snapchat ages ago, or whether you want your future boss to see the drunken night outs you’ve had. According to one Jobvite recruiter report, 43% of recruiters check the Facebook of those they recommend for jobs, and according to CareerBuilder, around 55% of employers check the social media of their employees – although this does vary depending on the job. For us university students, this probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is worth remembering that one day the world of work will be calling, and no one wants to be left behind.

43% of recruiters check the Facebook of those they recommend for jobs, and according to CareerBuilder, around 55% of employers check the social media of their employees

This is all fairly obvious stuff, but with social media so widespread, it is easy to forget the scope of just how many people are dipping into your life. It isn’t just people either; large corporations are involved as well. Everything about you and your photos, tags, likes, Facebook makes a record of. Similarly, every Google search you enter is logged and a complex image of you is created. How much information Google actually holds is unknown, but some estimates say it may have as much as 15 exabytes – enough data to fill 30 million 500GB computers. This information is then often sold to advertising companies to show you certain products and it does make you wonder just how much of what makes you, you, is left online.

When did we as a society decide that we were happy with all our information being readily harvested and then sold to the highest bidder? If someone walked into your home and put cameras everywhere, you’d probably object. And yet, we are content with putting our entire lives up on platforms which have far more reach than merely one person with a few cameras. At this point, the answer isn’t to simply switch off or never share anything online ever again. However, it might be a good idea to prepare ourselves for the day we wake up and realise we sacrificed every scrap of privacy we have, just to show off a few cute Snapchat filters, and a few blurry holiday pictures.