Dalhousie

Psychological freedom can be found in privacy

written by Dalhousie Gazette Staff
February 7, 2011 1:00 pm

Data Privacy Day conference sparks discussion at Dal

Torey Ellis, Staff Contributor

 

A lack of online privacy can cost students more than just their personal information, says a top North American privacy expert.

“Why is privacy so important? For our mental health. We couldn’t live without it,” says Robert Ellis Smith, a speaker at Wednesday’s Data Privacy Day conference.

He says “Its main benefit is psychological.”

“Privacy is not just the right to keep secrets,” says Smith. “Privacy is a form of freedom. It may only be a psychological sense of control, but in some cases that’s enough.”

Data Privacy Day, an annual conference held in the McInnis Room at Dal, featured five speakers with different views on privacy in the digital age.

Smith’s talk, entitled “Why is Privacy So Damn Important Anyway?” focused on reasons why people should pay as much attention to the effect of privacy on the psyche as they do to the pragmatic effects, like identity theft.

Other topics included the use of cookies in social networking and how to manage a digital identity.

“We need to create private places to ensure psychological well-being,” says Smith. “It’s not just the right to keep secrets.”

As for privacy among youth, Smith says “It’s common wisdom that kids don’t care about privacy,” but that he doesn’t agree with the sentiment.

“Young people have a different sense of privacy,” he says. “There’s more willingness to give out information. Some people might feel that if you cloud the air with misinformation, trivial things, some true and some not, it makes them feel safe.”

“But it’s the people who run these sites, making money off kids, telling them privacy isn’t important,” who are the problem, says Smith.

Armaan Ahluwalia, a second-year Dal student, has little concern over his privacy in social media networks.

“I feel that the way that the settings are right now is fine,” he says about tools like Facebook and Twitter. “It really depends on the people who are using them and whether they feel that they need to put some controversial information on the web for people to see.”

Ryan McNutt, a fellow speaker and a Dalhousie graduate, explains why some youth feel this way.

“There are different expectations for young people,” he said in his speech.

John Bullock, Information Security Manager at Dal and the MC of the event, says that control of online information is a universal concern.

“It’s an issue for everyone, not just for students,” he says. “We have smartphones … our whole lives are on our phones. We’re carrying all this around, accessing everything online.”

All of this, he says, means that privacy should be a constant consideration.

Bullock says student attendance at the Data Privacy Day conference was up from one student last year to nineteen this year, but he hopes to attract even more in the coming years.

“We would have liked to see a lot more students,” he says. “We’re trying to spread the word, through word of mouth.”

Videos and podcasts of the event will be available next week on the Dalhousie Information Technology Services website.

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