Considering the growing power and influence of technology companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, are we at risk of becoming a Big Brother society where our every move is observed, and every detail of our private lives is accessible to those who wish to manipulate or exploit us in some way?

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-I don’t think we’re at risk of becoming a Big Brother society, I think we’re already there.  Big Data has infiltrated every part of our lives, and the ability of hackers to take over smart devices in our homes, listen in our baby monitors and even turn on the cameras in our computers and cellphones remotely has made an illusion of privacy.  It’s the price of being part of the digital world. Unless you want to live in a yurt and burn cow dung for heat, you’re going to have to surrender some of your privacy in exchange for entrée into the modern world.

Of course it is possible to go forth into the digital world with at least a loincloth covering your naughty bits rather than completely naked.  Privacy has become something we must actively pursue and protect rather than take for granted as an inalienable right.  There are anonymous browsers, monitors for our devices and phones and training classes that will teach you to be a digital ninja in a world of rubes.

And, ultimately, it’s all largely useless if someone really wants to find you, watch you or learn about your private life. The hackers will always be a step ahead of the latest technology, and putting your faith in any shield will eventually prove to be a fool’s errand.

Of course, since we’re all in the same boat, the value of scurrilous information has dropped dramatically. Pictures of you in your underwear are not going to be the reputation wrecker they would have been a decade ago, even if that underwear happens to be somewhat more frilly than your corporate demeanor would indicate.  When none of us have any privacy, the airing of dirty laundry loses its impact.  It’s akin to science fiction tales of societies of telepaths, where there are no secrets and nothing is ever private…without the lasers and spaceships.

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-Early in the dawning Internet Age, I thought about how much personal information I might be sharing with the rest of the world through cyberspace. I concluded that one of my life goals would be to remain as anonymous as possible. Not just for concealing my identity on social media sites or chat rooms, but to safeguard my personal information from banks, insurance companies, retailers, scam artists, and even the federal government. I sensed that those entities knowing too much about me and my personal life would put me at some sort of disadvantage.

I had that revelation about twenty years ago. Since then, the internet has become ubiquitous in modern society. Much if not most of the world’s business and personal communicating is done electronically. My desire to remain anonymous is as strong as ever, but it’s also much harder to maintain.

We are at risk of becoming a Big Brother society because we individual users of the internet don’t know what we don’t know about how data is gathered and used by the Amazons and Facebooks of the world. Sure, they tell us in their privacy policies, but those are fine-print boilerplate legalese that obfuscates and is nearly impossible for the average person to understand.

Even if those policies were in comprehensible English, they don’t necessarily tell us how computer algorithms can dissect and analyze even small bits of information on us so thoroughly that they can predict our future shopping habits and extrapolate a scary amount of information about us that we’ve never shared with the cyber world.

In addition, improved surveillance through traffic cams, drone technology, and easier tracking of phones and credit cards make it easier for government to follow our movements and activities. Just watch the latest cop shows like NCIS to get an idea of what’s possible (even though the data takes much longer to acquire than is implied in a one-hour TV show).

We can’t return to a world where most of our private life remains private. The Big Brother society is here to stay. We as individuals need to educate ourselves so we can protect what privacy we have left and work to keep it out of the hands of those who want to do us harm.

Myrtle Beach, SC Correspondent-This is a short and sweet answer. Yes. Any time information is so accessible there are people who can and will misuse it. Whether it’s private companies, government, terrorist, SOMEONE will misuse the information. How do we combat this? I honestly think we are so reliant on information that we couldn’t get rid of Facebook, Amazon and Google even if we wanted to.

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