How to live with Big Brother

Big_Brother_is_Watching_Wide

Understanding why privacy matters

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formally published in The Other Press. February 17, 2016

While it isn’t necessarily the government that is tracking all your activity, the combination of all the data accumulated in day-to-day life is enough for them to know you better than your parents do. We can almost be certain that, although there is nobody watching us on a screen, our every action is recorded, filed away, and capable of being pulled out and evaluated by those with the credentials to do so. Most often those people aren’t people at all, they are just marketing algorithms designed to match your queries and daily behaviours with advertisements.

Now, Google isn’t out to embarrass you by exposing your search queries. TransLink will not send a message to your girlfriend if you decide to make a mysterious trip out to Surrey. Bell is not going to let your boss know that you’ve been trash talking him with your friends. These things don’t benefit the company, so don’t be paranoid.

It’s hard to trust the motives of big corporations, but I always bring it back to one question: Does such and such action cause them to lose or gain money? If your behaviour continues to benefit the business you get the service from, you can keep going merrily by—as long as you are not committing any heinous crimes.

There is no way around it; we need to trust companies to use our information ethically. However, we need to also be conscious of what information we are haphazardly giving away. See, privacy matters. Without privacy, you’ll lose control of your own life. The companies will own it.

Any sort of meaningful self-development does not happen in a group, or with Sauron’s eye watching you. It happens independently, not on Facebook and not while Googling. I’m not talking about education or improving your business skills or finding online romance, I’m talking about the growth that occurs when you are allowed room to breathe. This is the type of growth that has no deadlines and no guidance. This in essence is the life you’ll live.

We have become so obsessed with sharing our experiences on social media, telling everything we do to Big Brother, that we are forgetting the real point of our pursuits: to create memories that aren’t saved on any hard drive, except the one between our ears. We are scared of people listening in on us, but we have stopped listening to ourselves.

The season is changing. It’ll be a warm summer, I predict. This is an opportunity to get away from the information highway and do something nobody on the Internet will know. Big companies are constantly collecting data, and so should you. The good thing is, you get to decide what information you want to store: what’s spat out to you by those online or what you discover yourself. It’s up to you.

Stay the night

Untitled-2-768x509

What to expect when you invite a couple over to your place

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. February 3, 2016

Behind closed doors, it doesn’t matter what two people do. Regardless of who’s home or where you are—as long as it’s private—people deserve their privacy. You cannot govern someone’s sexual behaviour even if it is on your property. Naturally, when you invite people over to your place for a sleepover, a weekend, or a vacation getaway, you don’t often jump to the conclusion that your home would turn into a sleazy hotel room. But people do have sex, and you’ll have to accept it.

As a host, it’s impossible for you to keep track of your guests 24 hours a day. Should you hear some bump in the night, remember that they are just enjoying themselves and it’s temporary. Brush it off or laugh it off. If it’s too obvious to ignore, it’s your right as the host to pull your guest aside later on the next day and let them know that sex is okay, but they should perhaps be more discreet.

As a guest, it’s your job to be respectful. Depending on the person’s home, you can gauge whether raucous noise in the middle of the night will be frowned upon or if others in the house are probably getting some as well. There’s a difference from staying at your in-laws’ and your friend’s summer home.

I’m quite liberal with sexual freedom. People should be allowed to have sex, especially when it is private. Even when it isn’t, I live by the rule: if nobody knows, nobody cares. Yes, afterward someone will have to clean up the sheets, but hell, if the hosts weren’t prepared to do a bit of cleaning, they shouldn’t have invited people over.

You cannot welcome people into your home and say things like “make yourself comfortable” and then get angry because they did something you didn’t want them to do. When you open the door to people, you have to accept that they will do what they do. Your house is not a prison and you’ll just have to trust that your friends and family members will just behave and be respectful.

One of the worst fears for many people is walking in on others having intercourse. If that is a genuine concern while you are hosting, then maybe you shouldn’t have them sleeping in the living room or in an area without a closed door. If you don’t have any other options, then that is just a risk you are going to have to take. Maybe when they are “asleep,” you shouldn’t go wandering into where they are staying. If they are in their room, don’t go barging in. Follow the old rule: before you turn the corner, knock.

Let’s be adults. Sex isn’t that big of a deal. There are far more traumatic things in the world. Get over it and stop acting so stuck-up.

The great book of pseudonyms

opinions_fake-profiles

Should Facebook users be allowed to have fake names?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. January 6, 2016

Before we get into the debate of whether or not having a fake name on Facebook is justified, we must first understand why people would want to use an alias to begin with. The Internet is a public place, and like all public places, once we choose to be there, we cannot control what other people will do around us. The way we dress, the things we say, and pretty much all our actions can be visible. Visibility is sometimes seen as a vulnerability. Some people want fake names so they can conceal their account from stalkers, exes, co-workers, family members, etc. Other people just want to be funny, and use joke names to do so.

Facebook’s policy is not heavily enforced, so if you do want to use a fake name, you can do so and probably never get caught for it. However, I don’t believe you should. Facebook is equipped with numerous security features that enable you to block certain people from viewing your account, in addition to a privacy setting that cloaks all your activities until you give permission not to.

If you have a public persona, like a stage name or pseudonym, you can create a Facebook Page—which pretty much acts the same as a profile—with some limited functionalities. This is great for interacting with those who don’t know you personally. You can monitor and moderate it as you please.

Some worry about the security on Facebook. The fear of Big Brother is one that lingers on their skin every time they enter their real name into a computer system, but believe me, there is more data locked in your credit card and smartphone than there is on your Facebook account. Who cares if the government sees what you are posting? As long as you aren’t plotting a terrorist attack, you’ll be fine. On top of that, if someone wants to find out your real identity, they can do it; a fake name is the crappiest form of security. You don’t need a front door to break into a house; there are many ways to get in.

For the other point, joke names are funny, sure. But as far as comedy goes, it doesn’t have strong sustaining power. After a while, even the friends who found your joke name humourous will become a little annoyed, having to think twice when trying to invite you to an event because they are used to thinking of you by your real name. If you have a nickname that everybody uses to refer to you, that is a different story.

Our names are a part of our identity. While I believe there should be a certain amount of freedom on the Internet, I also believe that we should be visible in a space with so many dark corners. We can add locks, but we shouldn’t add to the shadows. If you don’t want people to see pictures of your vacation, don’t post it. If you are getting harassed, inform the authorities. If you are having an identity crisis, seek help. Remember that on Facebook nobody knows you are a dog—but they should if you are, shouldn’t they?

Your device puts you in public

Photo illistration by Joel McCarthy (photos via Thinkstock

Is there such a thing as digital privacy

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. March 25, 2015

The more we know, the more frightened we become, but that shouldn’t be the case. Technology has pushed people to the fringes of paranoia. The devices in our bags and pockets know more about us today than our parents do. Every action we make, every item we purchase, and every person we correspond with is ultimately recorded to some hard drive library or in the ether. And that data is combined into a harmless stat for marketers, law enforcers, and other faceless benefactors.

While it seems like we are closer to an Orwellian present, we are far from danger. I don’t believe information will be used against us for evil—at least, not unless we’ve done something wrong. I think what people need to start understanding is that the device they hold in their hand as they fall asleep at night is as close to being in a public place as waiting for the bus on the side of the road. Whatever you are doing is not important, but someone will probably see you. They might just be passing by in a vehicle or strolling by minding their own business, but you are there.

There are witnesses for our actions. Behaving as if the world is watching should in fact be our way of thinking when we use our smartphone to log onto the Internet. We have grown too comfortable with our devices. We treat them as our closest ally, never to betray us. But in fact it’s not your friend, it’s inanimate, and it’s a window into the outside world. Living through your device is essentially living in a glass house for everyone to see.

The devices are not the scary things. There is nothing scary about tools and appliances. We should not worry about an oven, but we should worry that if we leave the oven on, we’ll probably burn down our house. We are only now beginning to understand the damage our negligence can do through our electronic devices. Maybe there will never be a day when people are arrested for being drunk on the Internet. But being belligerent and harmful online is by no means an un-punishable act.

We need to start using our devices with responsibility. We need to learn that what we do there is not private. Even if you have a passcode to your phone and a complicated password for your accounts, someone somewhere knows it. A device is not a home you can secure, it’s a vehicle that takes you to sites worth visiting, and you share these sites with billions of other people.