Anwar Dafa-Alla

ASSISANT PROFESSOR, King Faisal University - Hofuf


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Re-defining privacy!

Someone is trying to break into my accounts (Gmail & Facebook), I thought of this: If he kindly asked me, I'd pass it to him/her without any doubt!
I have only three conditions: 1- No delete , 2- For a limited time we agree upon, & 3- Tell me what you've learned about me from what I have... this is an open invitation BTW :)
... Just to put you on context, I have more than 7.5 GB of Emails in my Gmail account, and on Facebook, I have 5320 friends , 2554 followers more than 230 photo albums on Facebook (some of them contain over 200 pictures)...

I imagined this scenario :

Not this one:

Is it a violation of my friends privacy? What are the limits here?
Any many questions popped up in my mind...Your input is highly appreciated.

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    Lejan .

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    Jan 24 2013: Do as you wish, yet it would be interesting to understand your definition of 'friends'. Before and post Facebook and its derivatives and if it has changed over it and 'them' in numbers.

    Personally I know for certain, that, if we became friends (in my definition) and you would open your accounts to the public as mentioned, this way of communication would only contain my trivialities, that's for sure and if I knew you would not post any spoken word of mine, you would get to hear 'the rest' of it over a beer at the pub ... :o)

    Re-defining privacy can only be done individually, as that's what it was anyway in the first place.

    Yet I would not consider it fair to any of your friends for you to open up in public, without them knowing about this intention of yours right from the beginning of your 'friendship'.

    In literature I made only one exception of my personal rule not to break into other peoples privacy without them inviting me for it, and this was the 'Diary of Anne Frank' and because I wished to know about her to understand the history of my nation through her eyes.

    Yet if you would reset your accounts and let your friends know about your new defined privacy, I don't see any hurdle why you should not do this.
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      Jan 24 2013: Thanks Lejan for your input...

      Sometimes one "breaks into other peoples privacy" without knowing from the beginning... in our extended family cultures... questions like " when are you going to have a baby? for newly married couples is normal... in South Korea where I lived for awhile, asking about your age might be the first question to ask, because it determines the type of language I'll use to communicate (Senior vs. Junior) ...

      I couldn't get the reason of why breaking into 'Diary of Anne Frank' privacy? Do you mean that sometimes knowing a certain piece of information "matters to you" breaks the "privacy" charter?

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        Lejan .

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        Jan 26 2013: Breaking into other peoples privacy without knowing is either a lack of knowledge (in cross cultural encounters for instance) or 'just' a lack of sensitivity. Both can be learned and adjusted to, as well as to watch ones own curiosity, which is the only motivation to enter another persons privacy.

        I have never asked the 'baby question' to anyone, as this is as long non of my business unless I am freely invited. To me this isn't difficult, for others it might be...

        The 'age question' is generally a bit odd in my view in western cultures and it mainly seem to apply to woman, as if it was a failure to grow older for this gender. A false interpretation of age in my opinion and probably based on the illusion of 'eternal youth', which is strongly promoted in this culture for no obvious reason.

        Your 'age example' for South Korea is interesting because it exposed my lack of understanding. Usually I would assume that the 'age range' becomes obvious and precise enough within a direct encounter yet then I recalled my personal difficulties to assess this 'age range' for Asian people especially within the large range of all the 'middle' ages. So far I was taking this as a personal lack of enough experience in 'reading' more fine facial details, yet might it be difficult for Asians too I wonder now which may caused this habit to openly ask for ones age?

        The 'Diary of Anne Frank' as an inherent part of world literature still is as what is once was intended and written: A diary! And diaries, at least to me, are one of the most private forms of writing and unless openly allowed, non of anyones business in general. So while I was reading the diary of Anne, I constantly felt of not acting appropriate according to my moral compass and it left me with a feeling of guilt ever since. Nevertheless I do not regret to have done this, as it opened emotionally a chapter of the history of my nation, which was important to me and so I have to take my personal consequences for this.
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    Jan 24 2013: For the good of science, I am willing to disclose some information that I consider private. I would be happy sharing my DNA, and correlating it with a medical history (although in the latter case, I would prefer to have some of it non-disclosed, which does not necessarily mean anonymous). And yes I have seen "Gattaca" (, and I've read my science fiction, and I know what the imaginary risks are. I like to think that very often, we can pay with a little drop to our convenience or comfort, to get the potential for large gains. So that would be doing that for me - living with my imaginary fears of not getting admitted to a health plan based on some genetic potential would be the little price I would be willing to pay :-)
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    Jan 22 2013: Privacy always has been redefined depending different factors even at the same time point it can be different for different person....e.g. Privacy of a homeless person /family is different than one has got a basic one room to one person / family having a huge not it?
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      Jan 24 2013: Thanks Salim for your input.
      Yes, Privacy is a function of "Time,location, culture,context, (what else?)..."...I love this... please continute the conversation.
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        Jan 25 2013: Thanks Anwar for your note....
        "What else "?....actually there are lot.....say privacy differs with gender, age, physical condition etc etc ...say the question which can't be asked by a general person to a physically challenged person due to privacy reason a must question for a healthcare professional.......

        Actually privacy concept needs lot of awareness about lot factors and applying common sense ...
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    Jan 20 2013: So, any idea why exactly somebody is trying to break into your accounts?
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      Jan 24 2013: Thanks a lot dear Mikko.

      I have no clue about her/his motivation(s), but those trails were in the past..and I took it as an introduction to my call to re-define the privacy.
      I'm really interested to hear from you about this "liquid concept" of privacy.

      We have met during TEDGlobal, and we took picture together (I'm very proud of that), I translated your TEDtalks into Arabic, I use them to teach my students about Information security/privacy. I follow you on Twitter and learn from you a lot. I consider you as a "friend". But, Do you consider me as a "Friend"?
      Nothing personal here...I just want to know how we define the term "friend" in the 21st century. Given that Facebook has put this label very generously to everyone.
      The answer to this question might give me an insight about what "violating my friends' privacy" might mean.
      Thanks in advance.
  • Jan 20 2013: It is definitely a violation of your friends' privacy. Imagine him taking your pictures or that of your friends and creating something that shows them in bad light.

    Given your 3 conditions, I imagine it's fairly easy to cause you real harm.
    1. One could send emails, effectively, impersonating you. A resignation letter, a scandalous letter, etc.
    2. One could mine your data to discover information that could be used to "hack" into your bank account. Impersonating you to your bank's telephone support person becomes easier.
    ... and so on. I can think of more 'creative' uses given time.
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      Jan 24 2013: Thanks John for your input.

      First, I call for a definition of the term "friends" in this world we live in now. Yesterday, 23/1/2013 was my birthday...I received more than 200 "friendly" Happy Birthday messages... the common denominator between these messages is that I can not find a criteria to determine who is friend and who is not? Considering the fact that the notion of Birthday might be "strange" in my own culture and a few celebrate it.

      Second, If someone can mine my data to discover information/knowledge that I personally can't grasp...then Be my guest to do so... hack my bank account is less valuable for me "personally" than finding interesting new patterns.

      What do you think?
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    Jan 24 2013: For the good of science, I put my friend's entry on Facebook:
    DNA of a person alone can not identify them. Unless you have other DNA that reflects their relatives, race or a DNA that you have collected from them earlier ...etc. Identification in this case is done by comparison rather than by conclusion.

    The problem begins when say for instance an insurance company mines your DNA to tailor your premiums such that they don't lose by covering you for illnesses you are going to definitely develop. This is stigmatization based on DNA.

    Other problem start when DNA is used to profile people based on their ancestry.

    No one can protect their DNA by the way, privacy probably stops here. Shreds of human cells, hair, saliva, lip prints on a mug..etc can all be readily available sources to collect someone's DNA, the tiniest bit is enough. What is inhibitory to this DNA analysis becoming a routine practice is the expenses to run the tests and the interpretations afterwards."

    And this paper:
    " On our understanding and misunderstandings of privacy read on the "I got nothing to hide paradox" "

    - Moon
  • Jan 24 2013: you can add personality, health, personal and privacy inclusive of your circle of intimacy
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    Jan 24 2013: I just participated in translating "Ellen Jorgensen: Biohacking -- you can do it, too" into Arabic. Ellen has signed up to Harvard study about making her own DNA sequence available online. What else is more Personally Identifying than your DNA? I don't have my DNA sequence in my Gmail or Facebook!
    So, again, my question is: What is privacy? and my call: let's re-define it .