Private and confidential things

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Thing 4 among the 10 USQ 23 Things is Privacy and Confidentiality. When the post first went up yesterday it did not identify the author and I thought at the time that was carrying privacy and confidentiality to extremes. That omission has now been remedied and we know that it was posted by Tim McCallum. The post also broke new ground by including learning tasks and quizzes. Fortunately the tasks required little time and the quizzes were bot sing M/C question affairs that I managed to get right.

As an introvert, I like my privacy and am typically careful about what, if anything, I divulge and to whom. Nevertheless, having spent 15 years as a teacher in Queensland country towns with populations of 10000 or fewer, I learned to cope with being recognised in the street and having anybody with any interest know where I lived and what I might be doing. It doesn’t take long to adjust to the idea that, if you don’t want people to know you are doing something, either don’t do it or do it where it will not be observed.

To a large extent I think the same applies online as out in the real world. If you want to keep something private then keep it private. If you put it out there then people are going to know about it and you really can have no expectation of restricting who might know. These days when I think of privacy I recall the comments of Professor Peter Goodall, former Dean of Arts at USQ. In his professorial lecture a few years ago he talked about his studies of medieval literature, especially Chaucer, and pointed out that our ideas about privacy are a construct of recent history. When most people lived in one room dwellings in small villages with limited transport there was no privacy. Social media has, to some degree, reestablished those conditions in our modern world.

Our best response is probably to be careful about what we share and to assume that anything we share beyond our most trusted circle might become public. Perhaps it would be a good thing if that encourages us not to engage in behaviours we would not want widely known. It might also increase the likelihood that we become aware of undesirable behaviours of others and use that as a signal to avoid unnecessary interaction with them. For the religious, who live in awareness that their every action is known to God, loss of privacy should probably make no material difference.

There is potential for harm when information that should be kept secure is acquired by somebody who should not have it. The risk of that may be greater with information that is stored in networked computer systems but there are steps, including encryption and 2-factor authentication, that can be taken to mitigate those risks. It may take us some time and effort to learn and deploy the necessary techniques.