Spy on Thy Neighbor

You parked in a bike lane. You tossed that wrapper out your
car window. You didn’t smile.
Websites and TV shows dedicated
to exposing transgressions — minor and major — are turning ’15
minutes of fame’ into ’15 minutes of shame.’ And they’re part of a
trend that shows that, in many cases, it’s ordinary camera-toting
netizens prying away our privacy — not some Orwellian
government.

In
The Snoop Next Door‘ (subscription
required), The Wall Street Journal‘s Jennifer Saranow
profiles sites like PlateWire.com, where drivers can post the
license numbers of reckless drivers, and
Flickr.com, the
popular photo-sharing website where photos accompanied by
comments like ‘TalksTooLoud’ expose poor cell phone etiquette.
Some sites let women warn each other: as
Ms.magazine
reported last summer
,
HollaBackNYC encourages women to post photos
of men who make unwanted advances. There’s also
Don’tDateHimGirl, where women lambaste their
bad dates with photos and comments such as ‘Isnt honest about
cheating!’
(A defamation suit is pending against the
site
.)

Vigilante websites are the online, grassroots extension of the
televised hidden-camera exposes that have thrilled viewers for
years. Making headlines on that front of late is the Dateline NBC
segment ‘To Catch a Predator.’ Writing for
Radar, John Cook argues that the
program — in which would-be internet predators are lured by
child actors (and adults posing as children online) to a
location where they’re caught on camera, interviewed, and
arrested — addresses a real concern about online child
predators among the public. ‘But,’ writes Cook, ‘they can be
stopped — and are stopped all the time by local police stings
— without parading them across our television screens for
titillated and enraged audiences to gawk at between commercial
breaks.’

Our willingness to trade privacy for a 21st century rendition of
street justice may be due in part to our changing expectations of
privacy. In
a poll conducted by Zogby International on
behalf of the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory
Committee
, 91 percent of the 1,200 adults surveyed said that
‘our expectations of privacy have changed due to technologies
and the Internet.’

We’re even willing to give up a fair amount of our own privacy
through social networking and photo-sharing sites like MySpace and
Flickr. In an article for the
Futurist (only an abstract of the
article is available online), Patrick Tucker suggests that
self-surveillance — recording and exhibiting oneself on the
internet — has a greater effect on our privacy than do public
security cameras. Tucker quotes privacy expert Amitai Etzioni,
who says, ‘People have become very willing to disclose things
for a number of reasons — for 15 minutes’ fame on television,
for convenience, for coupons and special marketing incentives,
and so on.’ According to Etzioni, all of this amounts not to our
loss of privacy but to our loss of privateness
— the sense of what’s too personal to air in public. A few
minutes watching home videos on YouTube is all it takes to
confirm Etzioni’s thesis.

Go there >>
The Snoop Next Door

Go there, too >>
What is Privacy?

And there >>
Strange Bedfellows

And there >>
Fun With Surveillance (abstract only)

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