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Coping with Surveillance Society

Posted in Best Practices, Executive Insights

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Note:  This is the second blog post in a three-part series where Eric Morgenstern, CEO of Morningstar Communications, examines three macro trends transforming society: transparency, privacy and connectivity.  In this post, Eric discusses the disappearance of privacy.

300.  That is the number frequently cited for how many times a Londoner is caught on camera on average each day.  In the U.S., surveillance cameras are also rapidly expanding today with the purpose of fighting crime.  The Huffington Post reports more than 10,000 cameras in Chicago alone.  Cameras may be filming you while you are at the grocery store, bank or simply walking down the street.  While the purpose of the cameras for our safety, many worry that surveillance cameras—like other devices in our technological society—are too invasive and encroaching on our privacy.

The Internet is another constant source of privacy concern. Google recently got hammered by the press for Google Buzz, a program that made g-mail user’s e-mail contacts public without asking first. The Google Maps street view feature also received complaints about being too invasive for showing up close images of houses and even people on the street.  Google responded by blurring the faces of people present in the images.  New technology is not only bringing  widespread capabilities, it is also bringing widespread privacy concerns.

Living in the last generation of privacy

You know the drill:  when you post pictures on Facebook, you put the attractive pictures in and leave out the unflattering pictures.  If someone else posts an unattractive picture of you, there is the untag button.  However, there is no “untagging” most of the records that may exist on the Internet.

If I wanted to find my dental records from when I was a kid, it would be very difficult to track down.  However, children born in the Internet Age will likely be able to look up their electronic medical records from the day they were born.  Records are no longer just sitting in dusty file folders, they are digitally archived and easily retrieved.

George Orwell’s 1984 warned of a big brother watching our every move.  Have we come to that point? The ACLU is fighting back against what it terms our “surveillance society.”  The ACLU “fights the trend toward a surveillance society and works to guarantee that individuals, not governments or corporations, determine how and when others gain access to their personal information.”  While there is some resistance to the current trend, there is likely no backpedaling to more privacy controls.

Taking control of our privacy

In terms of social networking, we can make the personal choice whether or not to have a blog, Twitter account, Facebook account, etc.  We can choose whether or not to divulge details about our love lives, our families and our trials and tribulations on social networking sites.  These choices are up to us.  However, we have less of a say when it comes to whether or not our medical records are digitally archived, our faces are caught on cameras, or how our internet searches are archived.

You can run, but you can’t hide

What does this mean for businesses?  It means that there is never any hiding.  Records aren’t easily expunged, and they are easier to retrieve.  Every bit of information is fair game.  Therefore, companies should strive to always make ethical decisions. Once a mistake is made, it is now easier for the public to find out and harder to expunge from the record. The solution should be to embrace a company culture of doing good.  Be good so that you don’t have to hide records, because records are getting harder to hide.

Privacy is disappearing.  That is the way of the world today and we can’t stop it.  However, as one of my favorite quotes by Khalil Gibran states, “You can’t control the waves but you can learn how to surf.”  We can’t change the way society is shifting, but we can ride the waves.  The best way for businesses to adapt to “surveillance society” is to strive to make ethical decisions each and every day.

We hope that this three part blog series will provide you with insight into how to best approach your marketing and communication programs in 2011. Click here to read the first post in the series.

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Posted on by Eric Morgenstern