No privacy, please?

While the world worries about phone hacking, have we let privacy slide away by accident?

By: Dr Wendy Maples (Faculty of Social Sciences)

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Hacking into a private email account, or listening into phone conversations probably seem pretty dreadful personal intrusions. But every day, we give up information about ourselves, about our buying habits, our personal interests, even our movements.

In the West, and particularly in the UK, we live in a world of constant surveillance. CCTVs track us driving along the road, walking through the shopping centre, visiting the hospital. Loyalty cards tell Tesco and Boots what we tend to buy – and what we might, sometimes, be tempted with.

And while there may be occasional outcries at the extreme end of intrusive actions, for the most part we actively and willingly give up this information about ourselves.

A password on a sticky note stuck to a computer Creative commons image Reidrac under CC-BY-SA under Creative-Commons license Safe and secure? A password on a sticky note


One reason why we concede to CCTV cameras on every street corner is because they make us feel ‘safe’, suggesting that without their perceptive lenses, we’d be less secure, at greater risk.

As for store cards – well, we accept that our recorded behaviours add to consumer profiling information because we get 1 penny off every thousand, and the odd special bargain in exchange for our 'loyalty'. But we also concede our privacy in other ways.

Mobile phones allow us to be everywhere – and nowhere – at the same time. Children increasingly carry mobile phones, not just because all their friends have them, but because parents use them to keep tabs on their children – they are the long-distance electronic versions of hand-holding.

The following short films explore the importance of security and surveillance in a Leeds shopping mall – and ask the social science question: just what is it about modern life that makes us seek security and just what are we giving up to be 'safe'?

Watch welfare, crime and society