An anonymous reader writes: Its become common practice for companies and industries to refer to a wide variety of digital actions as "theft". If you download media content without paying for it, you have stolen it. If you download a pirated copy of software to check out its suitability, you have stolen it. If you use any copyrighted material in a Youtube video without consent — well, you've stolen it. God forbid if get your hands on data a company considers "confidential" — instant arrest and imprisonment. Theft, theft, theft is the mantra and it seems that not a day goes by without some industry association reminding the world that all internet users are thieves at heart.
What about the privacy of ordinary people? Mainstream media like the BBC and CNN always uses soft terms like "privacy concerns" to make it seem like a "well it isn't very nice, but its hardly a hard crime" thing. But is this actually the case? Does having to have your likeness recorded for an unknown period of time by CCTV cameras when you go for a stroll past some shops, or having your IP logged by each website you take a glance at not "take" something from you? What about datamining, where computer algorithms try to "figure out" where you are in the world, what kind of person you are, what your interests, consumption habits and preferences look like, what you might be likely to buy or spend? Again, does this not constitute "taking" something from you that you have not voluntarily provided? Would you shop at a creepy record store or bookstore where some scientist in a labcoat follows you from shelf to shelf with a clipboard and notes down the exact time you looked at items, the sequence you looked at them in, and some information that lets the shop know that you, not some new customer is back and browsing for more? Would you consent to bricks and mortar shops coating sidewalks with a special substance that makes your shoeprints stand out in bright colors and let them figure out where you came from or where you went after you checked out?
Is it not "theft" to take something a person cares about and cannot get back once its taken? Is it not "theft" to force a person to leave an "imprint" of their presence behind with every digital step, no matter how casual or insignificant? To record someone's activities as if its "normal" that every step you take should be recorded in some way and become the property of whoever recorded it? To whisk someone's data into some database at a datacenter where the person who effectively OWNS the data will never see it again?
And would labeling privacy invasion "theft" or "stealing" in daily discourse be an effective way to corner those organizations, digital or not, that trample on people's privacy without appology? Should we remind mainstream media organizations that use fluffy terms like "privacy concerns" to add that "privacy infringement is in fact theft"? Should we treat companies that don't take privacy seriously as "thieves" and openly label them as such?