Loss of privacy and the “network effect”

I don’t believe that it is possible simply to look at privacy through the prism of individual, group, or society, where something must clearly fall into ONLY one of those headings. Drawing such definite distinctions fails to address some of the problems that can arise from our inter-connected world.

There is the “network effect”, where the loss of privacy of one individual may have an impact upon the privacy of others. So, for example, imagine that a library holds a Christmas party for the benefit of its staff. At the party, someone takes a picture of a member of library staff looking a little bit the worse for wear. That person then proceeds to post the picture on their Facebook page. Imagine, further, that the picture features half a dozen staff members, albeit that the person who appears most prominently in the picture is the individual who looks a bit drunk. What if the photographer didn’t just post the photograph onto their social media account, but they also tagged and therefore identified everyone who appeared in the photograph.

Another example of the network effect might be the way in which some people might share their email address book with others, whether this is done knowingly or not. Whereas some people may deliberately choose not to share information in that way. Now, imagine how that information could be used to generate information about someone who hasn’t directly shared their own information. If Joe Bloggs appears in the address books that other people have shared, then companies would be able to build a partial picture of the contacts in Joe Bloggs own address book, even if he didn’t share his address book directly himself.

I may not have explained this very well, so let me give a totally different example which illustrates this concept of interconnectedness.

An online vendor has a product which consists of trade data. The vendor has negotiated agreements directly with the statistical offices of many of the largest trading nations, but one or two statistical offices had been difficult over the contract terms, and the price they wanted to charge for the data. Nevertheless, the vendor is still able to get a certain amount of the data relating to those countries, because they can derive the data from the countries whose statistical offices have done deals with the vendor. If the statistical data covers trade, trade is a two-way process and it will of course therefore cover the trade that those countries (who have signed content deals with the vendor) have with other countries (that have not signed content deals with the vendor), albeit that this would be thought of as “derived” data.