Privacy / Security

Privacy and technology: How simple photos are leading to full profiles of ordinary people

We’re no longer just strangers in a crowd.

Imagine any street corner in any Bay Area town where, let’s say, four people — Alexandria, Larry, Cory and Cameron — are lost in private thought.

Without a single conversation, without even knowing their names, we could learn that Alexandria’s angry ex-boyfriend posted her photo on a “revenge porn” website. That Larry is mourning the death of his daughter. That Cory is trying to scrub her image from friends’ social networks. That Cameron picked the wrong place to hide from police.

In each case, a simple photograph of the four strangers, combined with the power of data, opens the door to deeply personal details. That’s one of the many ways digital technologies are turning our once-personal lives into a global show-and-tell and redefining our expectations of privacy — the subject of the latest installment in our series on how technology is transforming our lives.

Almost every day brings new revelations about how Big Brother snoops on us and Big Data mines our online activities for profit. Even so, we are only beginning to understand the power of these incursions. In a few years, our faces alone, snapped on a street, in a crowd, or posted by a friend on the Internet, will be the key for a search engine to reveal the stories of our lives.

There may be nothing that technology is changing more dramatically than privacy. What is happening with our images online is just one example of our digital reality: We’re living life out loud — secrets and all.

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