The Exchange

Connected World: You Have a Billion ‘Friends,’ Whether You Like It or Not

The Exchange

By Siemond Chan and Chris Nichols

NSA "whistle-blower" Edward Snowden might have changed for once and for all the way we view our privacy online and over the airwaves. But even if this is so, he almost certainly hasn't altered the unceasing spread of digital connections that mark daily life for billions of people all over the world.

After The Guardian and The Washington Post reported this month that wireless-service providers — e.g., Verizon — and Internet companies — Google, Yahoo! and others — were working with the federal government on a far-reaching data-collection program, some of us were outraged. Others merely yawned. To the former, we have an expectation of and right to privacy in our communications. To the latter, that view is naive, if not dangerous. Consider the bad, even sinister, behavior worming throughout cyberspace every hour of every day.

Debate continues to be considerable. Snowden, a former CIA employee, is either a hero or a traitor. Secret undertakings he exposed such as PRISM and its ilk are necessary safeguards or unjustifiable overreaches. Washington has repeatedly attempted to downplay the scope of the data-sharing alliance and argued that whatever it has done is legal, while several companies named as participants have denied funneling user intelligence to nameless analysts in the D.C. suburbs. Civil libertarians won't hear of it.

Not up for argument, however, is the extent of our interconnectedness. That's not going away. The technology that allows you in Kansas City to video conference with your mother in Tokyo is expanding, not diminishing.

We've trained ourselves to digest ever-smaller pieces of information in brand-new ways, remaining constantly in touch with friends, family and complete strangers via Twitter, Facebook (FB), LinkedIn (LNKD), text messages and email. And our network of the willing has grown to a point that's nothing short of astonishing. Consider that, as recently as 1997, only 18% of U.S. households told the Census Bureau they had Internet access. In 2011, it was more than 70%. Another example: According to Experian Marketing Services, some 93% of American adults now own a mobile phone.

While your opinion on privacy is your own, it's increasingly likely that you're sharing information, perhaps of a delicate nature, on more and more devices you possess. The world's population keeps growing, the tech continues improving, and the connections among all of us only get greater in number.

Internet and wireless data

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