March 15, 2010, 11:42 AM — It's a brave new world. Unfortunately--continuing the literary allusion--Big Brother is watching. As technology makes more information more accessible, it also threatens to expose information that is not intended to be shared. Privacy is a concept that is caught in the middle of the struggle.
Danah Boyd, a social media expert for Microsoft Research, presented a keynote speech at the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) festival in Austin spotlighting the fate of privacy. Boyd was clear that she does not feel privacy is dead. Contrary to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's claim, people do still care about privacy.
As one blog summed up her speech "Boyd says that privacy is not dead, but that a big part of our notion of privacy relates to maintaining control over our content, and that when we don't have control, we feel that our privacy has been violated."
So, where is the line, exactly? If the Google Street View cameras happen to catch you standing naked in your living room window and post it online for the world to see, does that violate your privacy? Some say yes.
However, others are quick to point out that Google is capturing its images from public roads, therefore whatever Google captures would also be viewable by anyone walking or driving down the street. The bottom line being, if you don't want the general public to see you in all your naked glory, perhaps you shouldn't be standing naked in the living room window.
Fair enough. What about employee monitoring? Is it OK for an employer to play Big Brother and monitor employee actions and communications? Established legal precedent suggests that the organization's right to monitor its own hardware and network resources trump the Fourth Amendment rights of employees. Some compliance requirements actually mandate monitoring and retention of communications for businesses obligated to follow them.
The Supreme Court of the United States is hearing a case that challenges that legal precedent, though. If the established policies of the organization allow for shared personal and business use of company-issued computers or other devices, the company may inadvertently be implying an expectation of privacy and surrendering its right to monitor. The decision in this case could have wide-ranging implications for compliance, and for corporate acceptable use policies.