Online Privacy Masks 'Beauty of the Internet,' Prof Says
The current discussions about online privacy threaten to ruin the "beauty of the Internet," according to a top journalism professor and advocate for “publicness.”
“There is a danger if we put too much into privacy protection,” said Jeff Jarvis, outspoken columnist, blogger and associate professor of the City University of New York’s graduate school of journalism, speaking at the Jan. 20 Digital Privacy Forum in New York.
“We’re paying so much attention to privacy that we’re going to risk missing the beauty of the Internet,” he said.
An instance of that beauty, Jarvis said, is the ability to travel around the world on Google Street View. But Germany’s recent decision to investigate the legality of Street View, and the Czech Republic’s banning of it, worries Jarvis.
“In Germany, buildings are now pixelated,” he said. “If the government can pressure Google to not take pictures of public buildings on a public street, can they say that to journalists, or people with camera phones? We have to beware the precedents we set and their unintended consequences.”
Jarvis calls for embracing the empowering freedom of the Internet and enjoying — even growing and learning — from the ability to reveal and share in a public forum.
“We’re going through a Gutenberg revolution,” he said. “This ability to be public, for all of us to have the Gutenberg press — let’s not give that up. What would happen if we lock down too much is we revert the power back to the institutions that we’ve grabbed it from. We have this power now.”
Jarvis, who created the popular blog BuzzMachine, knows firsthand the benefits of online sharing. On Aug. 10, 2009, he announced on his blog that he had prostate cancer.
Decades ago, this would have been an issue he faced alone, or with his immediate family and doctors. With the Internet, suddenly he had a support system that was millions of people strong.
Only one person accused Jarvis of “over-sharing,” he said, to which he responded, “Who’s to say what’s over-sharing? I accused him of over-listening.”
Looking toward the future, Jarvis stands behind the belief it’s a mistake to rush to enact privacy regulations, especially when that legislation would be based on fear, and not the benefits that a more social, less private online world could provide.
He used online health mapping and public health forums as examples of the life-saving work that could come from a social Internet, and discussed Germany’s opposition to using facial recognition in geo-location programs.
“That technology could be used to find missing children or earthquake victims or terrorists,” he said. “How can we forbid technology before we’ve ever used it?”
“The phobia of technology and the changes it causes could be dangerous,” Jarvis said. “Wonderful things come out of the social Internet, we’d lament that if we didn’t have it going forward.”