I was in Amsterdam last weekend and made a huge faux pas. While on a bike tour that passed through the Red Light District, I noticed that some of the red bulbs in the little lantern holders were the energy-saving, ice-cream whip type.
I thought this was a great visual representation of a city and country that has a pragmatic attitude towards sex work and a commitment to helping the environment. Sauntering through the area the next day, a few hours before catching my train home, I got my camera out to take a photo of one such bulb.
The sex worker in the adjacent window swiftly and forcefully reprimanded me for it. “No cameras! It is not allowed!”
I knew that no one is supposed to take pictures of the sex workers to respect their privacy. Their clients would probably not be too happy about snap-happy tourists roaming around either. There is even an alleyway painted with a huge mural adorned with the hashtag #nof***ingphotos.
I thought that my picture would be allowed because I had not included any identifiable features of the wall the red light was attached to. But rules are rules and I had broken the most important one in the RLD.
At a panel discussion on ethics at the ODI a few months ago, a policy expert at the organisation said that is important not just to think about ethics in the context of London where the ODI is headquartered but in the context of the UK as a whole. We need to think about how we incorporate regional differences. My Dutch blunder brought those words back to my mind.
Attitudes towards privacy are as individual as the people that hold them. Those attitudes are formed and informed by their experiences, values, principles and surroundings. I know of a well-informed media professional who point blank refuses to use Whatsapp because it is part of the Facebook family of apps. I also know of a marketing professional who is happy to sign up to apps and social media platforms with barely a cursory glance at the terms and conditions because “they already have all of our data anyway.”
In a 2018 report published by the Global Alliance of Data-Driven Marketing Associations and Acxiom, consumers were assessed for their attitudes to online data privacy across 10 countries.
The report referenced the segmentation analysis conducted by the DMA and Foresight Factory which divided data subjects into three types. The ‘data fundamentalists’ do not want to share their data even it if means forgoing a better service. ‘Data pragmatists’ will assess on a case by case basis whether the enhanced service offered is worth the value of the data being requested. Finally, the ‘data unconcerned’ are, as you might imagine, unconcerned about the collection and use of their data.
It found that Australia had the highest percentage of fundamentalists (27%) while Argentina had the lowest (16%). Furthermore, the Netherlands had the highest percentage unconcerned at 35% while the USA had the lowest with 18%. It has already been shown that attitudes towards privacy vary among age groups and I am certain that they would vary among professions too. Investigative journalists, human rights activists and sex workers are probably highly concerned about their privacy while a retail worker may be less worried about it.
Due to differing attitudes to data privacy, I think there should be a traffic light symbol system of red, amber and green that internet users can activate as they travel around the web. This would let the data controllers of organisations, websites and ISPs they know where they fall on the privacy spectrum. The data controllers would know that a red light is a red line.
Last week I learnt a lesson in respecting peoples’ wishes and boundaries around privacy. I now know, in no uncertain terms, that a red light is a red flag that means ‘no go, no show’ in certain spaces. The picture has since been deleted.