When it comes to issues of security, technology and new media get a bad rap. Something to do with the internet making people too anonymous and locations too visible. Something about how sites like Facebook have us willingly spilling the most sensitive information we own on a public forum. Something about how apps like Four square have us exploiting our phones’ GPS to show off how well-travelled and finely-dined we are. And, let’s not forget, something about how even the simplest of cell-phones aren’t safe from incessant SMSes after a single poorly-thought out, socially lubricated decision.
The reports don’t do much to quell our fears. There was the notorious MySpace casewhere a woman managed to get her next door neighbour’s daughter – the high school rival to her own – to commit suicide by posing as a boy she had (or developed?) a crush on and then breaking her heart. Or the one where a group of kids web-camming across different cities egged on a peer to OD in front of them. Back online, Something Awfulstands as a testament to how far the most basic of information can go in the hands of a couple of teenagers. Think of all the information about yourself you’ve ever revealed when creating a profile on the internet. And think about how all of it is owned by somebody else – several somebody elses. With all this in mind, it seems pretty evident that the internet is a scary place, and now that it’s invaded our phones, we should be downright terrified. No?
The internet is not a scary place. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum free from the laws of the realworld. Sure, the legalities concerning online activity are more sketchy that most given that the speed of the latter’s development far outstrips the former’s incurably sluggish pace. There is nothing inherently dangerous about the internet or technology. If there’s anything to fear, it’s our own (limited)capacity to consider the consequences of our actions online. The internet iseasy – it’s fast, it’s convenient, and it’s tempting. It now lives in our phones and follows us wherever we go. It’s also solitary, and there’s your problem. You never know how many people are ‘watching’ you, where they are from, and what fraction of them are perfect strangers.
But how is that the internet’s fault? Who twisted our arm and forced us to share pictures of one ‘crazy’ night out with our friends, our friends’ friends and Mark Zuckerberg, but our own ego? How many of us use Four square to reap rewards from the few venues that are privy to its concept of specials, and how many of us just for the satisfaction of being in a trendy place and making sure people know we’re there? And – for all our own lurking on perfect strangers or high school strangers on social and professional networks, how many of us could honestly be bothered to track them down IRL? Not none, sure, but not many. If we wouldn’t, what are the odds that anyone else would?
For me, the implications of technology and new media are far more positive than negative. I WANT my friends and family to know where I am. I want them to know which cafe I was last at. I want them to send me a message when my Twitter account falls silent for over 18 hours. I want them to be my friends on Latitude. The internet is a wonderful thing because it puts you in control of what information you want to share, whether you want to share it or not, and who all can see it. The most insecure component of technology is the human being using it.
Radhika recently started work in the NGO sector as an online strategist, but has been moonlighting as an online music journalist for years. You’ll find band interviews and album reviews by her here. Also look up the tweetathon moderated by her on Technology for Security #techsec on Twitter.