As more and more information is stored in various data warehouses throughout cyberspace, people are worried about the impacts on their privacy.

“On the one hand, millions of us post the most intimate details of our lives online — sometimes confirmed by pictures,” Bruce Willsie says. “On the other hand, when asked in surveys about the importance of personal privacy, most of us state that we believe it to be very important.”

Willsie says that many of us have willingly relinquished rights to privacy in exchange for customized advertising and convenience.

“We use smart phones with the location services activated so that we can easily find the nearest Starbucks knowing that we are broadcasting our exact location to the telephone company, which can then track our every move,” Willsie points out. “We willingly sign up for grocery store loyalty card programs to get the small discount they offer knowing that each of our purchases is being recorded and analyzed so that the store can sell to us more efficiently.”

“It is difficult these days to live completely ‘off the electronic grid’ but that is the only way to get back to a time when we could truly say our lives were private,” he says.

Are these tradeoffs good for society? “I’m not sure we know, and we have many years ahead of us working through our feelings,” Willsie says. “We have only been living in this brave new world now for a very short time, and I think our views about privacy versus convenience are still evolving.”

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