Friday, June 28, 2013

A navigation guide for you in New Digital Age

By John Cheeran
Can you keep your privacy online? With the US National Security Agency’s Prism programme snooping on social media networks to collect data, you have reasons to be highly sceptical. People who are not on Google, Facebook and Yahoo and not using smartphones are becoming a minority across the world. The digital age in which we are living has become an uncertain place.
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, Google, and Jared Cohen, director, Google Ideas, warn us about the consequences of going online in a brilliant book The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business (Published by Hachette in India, Rs 650).
Five billion more people are poised to come online. By 2025, the majority of the world’s population will, in one generation, have gone from having virtually no access to unfiltered information to accessing all of the world’s information through a device that fits in the palm of the hand.
If the current pace of technological innovation is maintained, most of the projected eight billion people on Earth will be online, write Schmidt and Cohen.
The authors raise an important question-- will the digital empowerment of individuals result in a safer world, or a more dangerous one? They don’t have the answers but try to chart out the scenario that may unfold before us.
Any stuff you keep online is vulnerable. Identity will be the most valuable commodity for citizens in the future. How to protect it? There is no delete button in digital world. Isn't that a frightening piece of knowledge?
WikiLeaks cofounder Julian Assange believes in the dictum of ‘information wants to be free.’ Free-information activists say the absence of a delete button ultimately strengthens humanity’s progress toward greater equality, productivity and self-determination.
But the absence of a delete button also presents challenges.
Schmidt and Cohen do not address whether secrecy and privacy are the same. As an individual you have a right to privacy, but do you have a right to secrecy? Public interest should be the key to unlock this question.
The authors caution us that if we are on the web, we are publishing and we run the risk of becoming public figures—it’s only a question of how many people are paying attention, and why. You are always under surveillance in the digital world.
Security and privacy are a shared responsibility between companies, users and the institutions, write Schmidt and Cohen. They admit that companies like Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook are expected to safeguard data, prevent their systems from being hacked into and provide the most effective tools for users to maximize control of their privacy and security.
But they also make it clear that it is up to users to leverage these tools. “Each day you choose not to utilize them, you will experience some loss of privacy and security as the data keeps piling up.” The option to delete data is largely an illusion.
The irony is that privacy is in danger but we don't even get our basic information right, the kind of information no one has withheld from us. Take the case of former railways minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, as an example. Did we know about the kind of environment in which Bansal was operating as a politician?
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