Privacy – is nothing sacred?

There’s been a lot about privacy in the news this week. First Facebook, which only slightly tweaked its T&Cs so that all your contents are now belong to them, forever. Then the more UK centric debate about reality star Jade Goody, who having lived her life in the spotlight for the past seven years will now be playing out her death on the public stage too it seems. Then to top it all, the very bastion of keeping schtum, the Vatican has used information gathered during confessions for a publicity campaign.

bits_facebook_logo1The Facebook saga has been well covered by many other people already and a U-turn has already been swiftly executed. Personally I like the stance that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took in his post. That Facebook wasn’t changing its T&Cs, rather it was just clarifying them, which is a top notch spinmeister bit of spiel if I ever heard one.*

It’s not the first time Facebook has pushed the boundaries when it comes to privacy. In 2007 everyone got upset about its Beacon programme being a tad too invasive. FB duly saw sense and made it opt-in rather than automatic enrolment. However, if as Zuckerberg’s himself has declared, ‘…people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before’, then it will not be too much longer until such moves go unnoted.

Perhaps our need to share everything has been stimulated by the millennium craze for reality shows that make megastars out of the most mundane. Admittedly reality TV existed before Peter Bazalgette** persuaded Channel 4 that nine weeks of watching ten no marks would be their biggest money spinner for the following decade, but I think we can safely say that BB was the thin end of wedge.

The most famous of the mundane is Jade Goody, who appe800px-goodyared in Big Brother 3 in 2002. It was this series in which the contestants became the most media savvy, realising that there was more money to be made by squeezing their 15 minutes outside the house than actually winning the competition itself. Goody, with the help of media svengali, Max Clifford, excelled in this. She has rarely been out of the papers, gossip mags or off the slightly scuzzier satellite channels and the British public happily lapped it up.

There are many reasons why Goody is popular, she provides fodder for those who like to sneer at her malapropisms, her general lack of education and lifestyle. For others she is proof that anyone can become rich and famous and provides inspiration. Most were happy for her to share every detail of her life but now that it comes to her death though we’ve all gone a bit prudish and she is being berated from several sides for continuing to appear in the media. Some are praising her for bringing the plight of cancer sufferers to the fore and doing the only thing she knows how to make as much as possible for her two children.

I think this indicates that it is no longer up to the individual what they wish to remain private, although this very much depends on the individual and what level of ownership the public feels they have on them. Perhaps this is reflected in the way Facebook changed its terms, that it will eventually decide what will be public property and what will should remain underwraps.  Actually it could be argued that it has already appointed itself as the moral guardian, what with its interesting approach to pictures of breastfeeding.

698px-boschsevendeadlysinsThe question is do we need a new moral guardian? Perhaps is the answer following recent coverage on the Vatican. Today’s papers are full of coverage about how  men are more likely to confess to sins of lust and gluttony, and women were more likely to admit to pride and envy.

From a PR perspective, this is a nice piece of work.  A bit of competition between the sexes and it ticks off the various sleaze, sex and inquisitiveness boxes too. For someone who is interested in privacy and also knows a bit about religion it rang a few alarm bells As far as I am aware what is said in confession is meant to stay in confession. I believe (though am happy to be corrected on this) that if I were to confess to a priest that I’d committed a crime that they would be unable to then grass me up to the local constabulary, they would urge me to do give myself up but due to the sanctity of confession they couldn’t snitch themselves.

Now it seems that while they still can’t pass on any juicy gossip they can keep a rough record of who did what and then print it in their equivalent of a trade mag. I’m intrigued as to how the data was gathered, did they ask each person for permission to record the general category of sin or did they not give the penitent in question the heads up?

No matter which method was employed, it certainly raises a few questions as to what our notion of privacy will be like in  five – ten years hence, if the catholic church is not above either A) employing anecdotal information or B) profiting from the sins of its flock for a marketing push of its own.


*Which I have, I once heard myself mutter in a meeting, ‘it may not be *the* truth, but it’s a believable truth’. But don’t worry dear readers, I took myself outside and had a stern word with myself about being a gnat’s nadger from becoming the kind-of-jumped-up, soulless, marketing spawn that Bill Hick’s had long ago issued clear instructions to and returned to being a general lovely instead.

** Incidentally Peter Bazalgette is the great-great-grandson of Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, whose crowning achievement was the central London sewer network. I include this nugget only in the interests of keeping  the niff, naff n triv quotient up. You may draw any conclusions about how different generations have differing approaches when it comes to pumping effluence for the British society in your own time.

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