A Jewish View of Data Sharing and Privacy Protection
Our interconnected world creates countless opportunities for privacy breaches that bring about painfully embarrassing situations and scandals.
Information that we share on social media sites, such as Facebook and Google, is collected, stored, and shared with companies and agencies that track our online behaviors, such as Cambridge Analytica, Apple, Blackberry, Microsoft, and Samsung.
Even in the privacy of our own homes, an elevator, or at our workstation, we may be recorded — and those pictures and videos can be shared with the world. Any bystander with a smartphone can record and share our most embarrassing moments, and hackers can access the personal data and images from our devices.
This worrying trend is getting worse, and we need to take the necessary ethical and technological precautions to protect our privacy.
Countless articles discuss how to protect our privacy while using social media, but almost none of them discuss the most important preventative measure: acting appropriately.
Failing to act appropriately is often the cause of the most embarrassing incidents, and it is relevant even if we aren’t hacked or caught on video and exposed to the world.
Proper behavior is a key principle in Judaism. Rabbi Moshe Isserles, known as the Rama, starts his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law, with the requirement to always act appropriately in the privacy of our home (Orach Chaim 1:1).
“‘I have set the Lord before me constantly’ (Psalms 16:8) is a major principle in the Torah and amongst the virtues of the righteous who walk before God,” wrote the Rama. “A person’s way of sitting, his movements and his dealings while he is alone in his house, are not like his way of sitting, his movements, and his dealings when he is before a great king. Nor is his speech and free expression when he is with his household members and his relatives like his speech when in a royal audience. ‘Will a man hide in concealment and I will not see him?’ (Guide for the Perplexed III 52).”
When we stand before an audience, we instinctively act more carefully. Self-awareness and shame is part of what separates humans from animals. Besides taking the proper technological cautions to prevent others from gaining access to our personal and financial data, we need to remember to always act, speak, and write appropriately. This way, even if our privacy is breached, we have nothing to be embarrassed about — because we tried to act as appropriately as possible, under all circumstances.
As Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi said in The Ethics of Our Fathers (Chapter 2:1): “Contemplate three things and you will not come to transgression: Know what is above you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds are being inscribed in a book.”
With advances in modern technology, not only the Lord, but also many others, are constantly tracking, recording, and trying to gain access to our personal information. One of the ways to cope with this technological challenge was presented over 800 years ago, and has gained a new sense of urgency. No matter who you are and where you are, always act appropriately — as if you are standing in front of a royal audience.
Rabbi Carmi Wisemon is the director of Sviva Israel and an Israeli high-tech professional.