The line between privacy and lack of it on the internet is growing thinner and blurrier every day.
This has become the social and cultural norm. We don’t own our online lives and it’s about time we accepted it. At its molten core, the internet is good for us.
It has made the world flat and changed regimes through hashtags. It has given a few lucky ones their millions or billions. Some have found love in those corridors.
Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, who has arguably made his wealth from invading people’s privacy, including sharing data with third parties, might not have predicted how ripe the Kenyan market would be for this invasion, now that a new report has revealed that Kenyans don’t really care that much about privacy, despite their loud protests to the contrary.
Whatever Zuckerberg and company do with our data is our fault too, as we enabled them by clicking “I Accept” without reading the fine print.
The "Digital Economy Report 2019" by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development shows that only 44 per cent of internet users in Kenya are concerned about their online privacy, compared with over 90 per cent in Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Mexico and Nigeria.
The lack of concern about privacy among a majority of Kenyans places them at the risk of being easy targets of cybercriminals.
The report refers to this as a “data privacy paradox”, whereby users give away personal data and thus their privacy in exchange for different services.
Does this sound familiar? The Communications Authority of Kenya recently reported that cyberattacks are growing and the Daily Nation’s Newsplex team, in a story published in May 2019, warned that the talent pool of defenders is not keeping pace.
This is alarming by many measures. During the just-concluded census, a section of netizens expressed their discomfort with giving enumerators their passport and/or identity card numbers.
Human rights group Amnesty International chimed in on this issue, advising Kenyans that giving this information was supposed to be voluntary.
Concerns were voiced too about the government’s ability to safeguard such personal details.
If you are on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, then you must have received daily, if not hourly, invitations to syrupy moments of strangers and friends or family eating, drinking, sleeping, holidaying and generally living their carefully edited and photoshopped lives.
You might also have been invited to someone’s labour room. There are breakfasts, lunches and dinners you may have “eaten with your eyes” or with clicks of your computer mouse.
Or perhaps you were invited to their lemony moments too. Moments of grief or despair.
You might have virtually attended a funeral with no information on who the dead person was.
You may have liked a funeral selfie too. One could argue that the whole point of social media is to help people connect, even if it means inviting strangers to your living room.
But this, too, is contestable, as the pernicious effects of social media, like its link to mental illness, can’t be ignored. Or being the space where individuals have been mercilessly pilloried.
There are arguments made for and against sharing private lives on the internet, but the point is that grumbling about lack of privacy while gleefully posting private moments online is absurd.
The idea of privacy in the age of the internet and smartphones is a myth. If people are so concerned about privacy, then perhaps they shouldn’t be online at all. Too late for that because, as they say, the internet never forgets.
Since we are trading our privacy for likes, swipes and comments or whatever other need it satisfies, we might as well get comfortable with the idea that privacy ended the minute we signed up for that Yahoo or Hotmail address.
So, instead of complaining about privacy – or lack of it – since there seems to be little distinction between the two, it’s better to brace ourselves for a long, privacy-free internet ride and operate with a simple golden rule: If you can’t show it to your mother, don’t show it to the world.
The writer is the editor, Living Magazine; [email protected]