Blog Post 3: Privacy and digital technology

Referring to Jurgensen and Ray (2012), how are digital technologies affecting (In positive and/or negative ways) user’s privacy? 

Despite there being strong evidence to suggest that new digital technologies have been to the detriment of personal privacy, the positive implications of data disclosure are yet to be fully acknowledged. As Jurgensen and Rey (2012) suggest and contrary to popular belief, privacy and publicity can be mutually reinforcing and the perception that users must decide between privacy in exchange for utility is incorrect. Digital technologies, can in effect support positive publicity and prompt new social research.

The collection and analysis of data in the analogue world required meticulous organisation and regiment. Although, limitations such as geographical location existed before the digital age, it has become apparent that new digital technologies have eradicated such limitations and prompted an unprecedented surge in interaction and data. (Haggerty, 2013)

With this increase in quantity of data, a greater representation or cross section of markets has been achieved. The availability of data and personal information has subsequently prompted new, more diverse social science research as well as a $2 billion dollar industry for obtaining health care data. (Sweeney, 2012)

Despite the once highly confidential nature of such data, the release of aggregate health or medical information to marketing firms, as well as pharmaceutical researchers and government agencies, has resulted in new insight and the development of more effective medical products. Dr Latanya Sweeney, a leading Harvard researcher in data and technology suggests that the increase in data is “the equivalent of what a telescope was when given to an astronomer”. (See her presentation at Wellesley College in 2012 below:)

(Wellesley College, 2012)

Furthermore, the evaluation of big data has resulted in the implementation of new policies, revised approaches to public security and the management of services. (For example, The Australian Public Service Big Data Strategy; (Dept. Finance & Deregulation, 2013)

Inventions too have emerged, including CCTV, child GPS trackers to aid abduction recovery, eye tracking technology for the benefit of disabled online users, as well as electronic birth certificate databases. The latter in particular, uses personal data such as maternal lifestyle habits to recognise at risk children to intervene before health issues arise. (Brookings Institution, 2013)

(Brookings Institution, 2013)


(Care360Blog, 2012). 

Perhaps the most immediate and recognisable effect of new technologies and the analysis of private data is the improvement of user interfaces and online experience. The common perception amongst online users that a targeted exploitation and collection of personal data occurs by third parties, including marketers and advertisers. However, whilst a financial agenda is evident, the preying of businesses on individuals is not the case. (Hinton, S 2013) Rather, the availability of personal data allows advertisers and large corporations to gain greater insight into their market and subsequently sell products to individuals that are actually suitable to their client.

This process also transcends into the improvement of these products, whereby user behaviour such as eye and mouse patterns are analysed in order to reveal weaknesses in design or function and ultimately deliver improved user interfaces. The inclusion of cookies in most digital networks also allows individuals to efficiently access online accounts and preferred pages without using a login each time. (Wu, 2012)

It must be acknowledged that digital technologies, specifically social networking platforms and online networks have ultimately been established as a response to our primal human desire to be recognised and accepted by social groups. These online environments feature an equal number of risks and implications, but a balance can be achieved. (Positive online citizen behaviour is outlined in this guide from the ACMA (ACMA, 2013).

These social services, regardless of the change in medium, mirror the foundations of offline interaction and social activity, whereby in order to contribute experience and knowledge operate within a particular social group, it is necessary to disclose some personal information. As Jeff Jarvis suggests,

Our new sharing industry – led by Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Foursquare and blogs- is premised on an innate human desire to connect. These aren’t privacy services. They are social services. (Angwin, J 2011)

The popularity of online dating services also serves as a catalyst for drawing parallels between the offline and online environment. Dating services, as well as offline services rely on a degree of vulnerability in order to align similar minded individuals and deliver a rich experience. However, this is not to say that an individual’s engagement and trust of online services (not exclusive to online dating), warrants disrespect or misuse. Just as we cannot gain ownership of real world assets such as a car, bank account or superannuation without private data disclosure, the operation of digital technologies, services and social platforms also require a balanced of providing in order to provide. Abstinence from social interaction and technological interaction is not avoidable, nor sustainable in our digital age.


Angwin, J 2011, How Much Should People Worry About the Loss of Online Privacy?, Wall Street Journal, viewed 5 November 2013, <>.

Australian Communications and Media Authority 2013, New Guide promotes positive online engagement, Version 1, Australian Government, viewed 7 November 2013, <>.

Care360Blog (Quest Diagnostics Incorporated) 2012, Infographic: EHR vs. Traditional Paper records, online infographic, viewed 6 November 2013, <;.

Department of Finance and Deregulation 2013, The Australian Public Service Big Data Strategy, 2013, Australian Government, viewed 7 November 2013, <>.

Eye Tracking Technology and Digital Privacy, 2013, online video, 25 March, created by Brookings Institution, viewed 7 November 2013, <>.

Haggerty, S 2013, Digital Citizenship: The path to a positive online footprint, Public Assembly, viewed 7 November 2013, <>.

Hinton, S 2013, lecture 9, week 9, Privacy and Publicity, Powerpoint slide and lecture content, viewed 29 October 2013, accessed through <;.

Jurgensen, N & Rey, P. J 2012, ‘The Fan Dance; How Privacy Thrives in an Age of Hyperpublicity’, in Lovink, G & Rasch, M (Eds), Unlike U Reader; Social Media Monopolies & Their Alternatives, viewed 5 November 2013, <>.

Technology can save Privacy, 2012, online video, 3 April, created by Wellesley College, viewed 7 November 2013, <>.

Wu, K. W 2012, The effects of online privacy policy on consumer privacy concern and trust, Computers in Human Behaviour Journal, Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 889-897, viewed 6 November 2013, <>.


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