All Things Digital Are Public

Forget about privacy. Accept the fact that all things digital are public. The fact is indisputable.

All Things Digital Are Public The Stone Clinic

There is no government agency, no corporation, no software, no server, no encryption, and no block chain  known to modern science that, once made digital, is not penetrable, hackable, and shareable.

When you accept this fact, your world changes. HIPPA—The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, designed to ensure medical privacy—is revealed as the expensive and useless encumbrance that it is. The password jumble we all create and forget is removed. You live your life knowing privacy exists only in the analogue world.

This realization has tremendous benefits and unfortunate side effects. On the beneficial side, we are compelled to communicate honestly. We know our audience is larger than our intention, our words are permanent, and what we say will help some and hurt others.

All moments captured are public. We see that when we take a photograph with a smart phone; it almost instantly becomes a shared image. (The fantasy of Snapchat is just that. Snapchat’s servers surely store the image, even if it is hard for you to access it again.) Once you know the person you hugged, the bar you danced on, or your child’s first step are visible by the world community, you begin to act as though you are part of the ocean of life rather than an isolated puddle. All aspects of recorded human life digitally influence all others—and hopefully increase the maturity of the species.

On the negative side, secrecy is nearly impossible. It is a tremendous effort to take important communication offline. It may no longer even be possible since cameras and the potential for voice capture are ubiquitous. Few conversations occur outside the proximity of a cell phone, computer, or video cam. All of these can be set up to spy on our conversations. (Even Zuckerberg can’t hide and has tape covering his smartphone camera lens). The loss of our illusion of privacy is stunning to many people, though it has been years since true privacy was possible.

In medicine, patients used to think their medical records belonged to them. Now they realize that every record is mined for health data. This data is used by insurers to limit costs, by pharmacies and drug companies to target advertising, by hospitals to limit their expense exposure, and by employers to cut insurance costs. The only person who has a hard time accessing a person’s medical record is a doctor outside of your healthplan, from whom you want a second opinion. Your diseases, ailments, and neuroses are far from private.  

So does all this help or hurt our health?

It could be that once we embrace our truly public lives, we may lift ourselves out of the silos we thought we lived in and act as the communities we really are. We may actually make better informed decisions when all of the data is crowdsourced. Our entrancement with smart phones, Fitbits and selfies may show us, at last, that we’re truly interdependent. Isn’t that why this media is called “social”?

Medically authored by
Kevin R. Stone, MD
Orthopaedic surgeon, clinician, scientist, inventor, and founder of multiple companies. Dr. Stone was trained at Harvard University in internal medicine and orthopaedic surgery and at Stanford University in general surgery.