John Locke, in his book Eavesdropping: An Intimate History (2010, Oxford University Press), notes that "People spent many centuries living in homes before they got the idea or motivation to create private areas within homes... Privacy was becoming a value, but there was something else. People were beginning to think of themselves as individuals, as people who differed in important ways from all others, and they sought spaces that would reinforce those differences."
Privacy is more valued than ever, yet today many people willingly give up much of their privacy to participate in social networking sites. There are well over half a billion Facebook users, many of whom happily share personal information and photos with people they've never met. In an interesting blend of exposure and privacy, tens of thousands of men and women post naked (yet anonymous) photos of themselves online for the world to see - as I accidentally discovered while doing a Google image search for the word "amateur."
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The kernel of the privacy issue is, of course, consent. News of the World apparently hacked into phone messages of murder victims and possibly those of relatives of slain British soldiers and others. Those who choose to share their private thoughts and photos with the world through Facebook, Twitter and blogs can, to some degree, choose what information is seen by whom. Those whose private information was stolen by News of the World have no control over who sees it.
Technology makes privacy more difficult than ever. We trust that third-party companies conveying our private letters, texts and phone messages will keep them private. The risk of privacy violation is the price we pay for the convenience of cheap, instant communication, and scandals like this will not go away.
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